COVID-19 can't stop Christmas from coming

Jennifer Stultz
Pratt Tribune
Community volunteers (from left) Wysdom Zerba, Autumn Wittig and Brent Wittig joined others in helping distribute donated toys to children from Pratt, Kingman and Kiowa counties last Saturday at the Pratt Armory.

As Christmas nears and COVID-19 continues to cause church changes, school activity restrictions and community event cancellations, many are feeling a little overwhelmed and in need of reassurance that Christmas 2020 will come as usual. And it will, if local Pratt Toys for Tots volunteers and Santa's helpers have anything to say about it.

"We had to make some changes this year, but last Saturday we were able to give out toys to almost 400  kids for Christmas because of the wonderful support this community gives to Toys for Tots," said Jason Leslie, Toys for Tots coordinator for Pratt, Kingman and Kiowa counties.

Leslie said that despite changes that had to be made in donation collections and toy distribution day rules in order to comply with CDC health guidelines, 2020 was very successful in terms of bringing Christmas toys to children whose parents signed up for local assistance.

"We actually had really good donations," Leslie said. "A lot of people gave a lot more than in past years. All said and done, each child will receive four brand new toys, plus extra books and stocking stuffer items that their parents picked up at the Pratt Armory on Saturday."

A long line formed outside the armory at 8 a.m. on December 12 but quickly dispersed as parents were handed tickets and a promise to get a text when it was their turn to return to the armory to pick out Christmas gifts for their young ones. Masks were required for entry.

"Once inside, we did thermal temperature checks and went through a CDC questionnaire with each participant and not one person was turned away," Leslie said. "It actually all went very smoothly, better than any other year, so we learned some helpful organizational tools from this experience."

Spaced entrances, table monitors and a separate exit door kept participants moving through at a safe and steady pace.

Leslie said that 18-20 local volunteers helped disseminate the hundreds and hundreds of toys that had been gathered for children from Pratt, Kiowa and Kingman counties.

A surprise Santa in the First United Methodist Church parking lot at the corner of First and Main streets in Pratt, also played a role in helping children, and parents, feel reassured about the coming Christmas season on Saturday.

"So many of Santa's events have been cancelled this year due to COVID-19 so Santa told me he wanted to somehow continue to share the Christmas spirit as he started to a few years ago in Pratt," said Krista Miller-Swisher, a special Santa's helper.

She said that the Santa she knew had shared the real story of Christmas at church a few years ago by reading about Christ's birth to children.

"That spirit of kindness, and gentleness and giving is one that Santa wanted to share last Saturday," she said.

Santa Claus made a special appearance at the corner of First and Main streets Saturday in Pratt.

Despite the cold weather, Santa stood at the corner of First and Main, waving to passersby and visiting with those who stopped for a closer look.

"Trucks honked, drivers waved, little arms wiggled out of car windows and many stopped for pictures," Swisher said.

Santa has promised he would be back next Saturday, December 19, in Pratt, so children and parents might want to be on the lookout for the holiday visitor.

Those who might want to help Santa out with small gifts for children could drop items such as bubbles, small balls, play dough, microwave popcorn, hot cocoa mix, coloring books, boxes of crayons, matchbox cars, little baby dolls, dollar jump ropes, watercolors, etc. off at the First United Methodist Church and Santa will make sure they get into the right hands, Swisher said.

A special Santa Cruise night has been set for Saturday, December 19, starting at 5:30 p.m. in the Green Sports Complex new track parking lot. A community prayer will be led by First United Methodist Church pastor Nicole Ck, followed by a cruise through Pratt parks and downtown streets. Though participants in the Santa Cruise are required to remain inside their vehicles at all times, it is possible Santa might make an appearance.