Thousands expected for 'Birthday Party for Jesus' at The Citadel
If it's anything like last year, thousands are likely to turn out on Christmas at The Citadel's Johnson Hagood Stadium, where volunteers will serve food, hand out gifts and celebrate the birth of Jesus.
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Last year, about 2,000 people showed up at the "Birthday Party for Jesus," organized by a collection of churches and community groups. The line wrapped around the outside of the stadium. About 1,000 volunteers helped distribute bicycles, a traditional Christmas meal and other goodies.
About the same number of volunteers are expected this year, but even more items will be given away at the event, which begins at noon.
"We're still doing everything else we did last year, but doing more this year," said Gordon Cashwell, the director of Without Walls Ministry, a local union of churches that reach out to economically challenged neighborhoods in Charleston. He's one of the event's organizers.
Along with the bicycles they provided to children last year, 2,500 pairs of new sneakers will be given away.
Also new this year: free haircuts will be provided, about 17,000 pounds of groceries will be handed out and five pastors will preach throughout the event.
"We will also have a live manger scene with animals. People can have their pictures taken with baby Jesus," Cashwell said.
It's the third year the group has held the "Birthday Party for Jesus" on Christmas Day at the stadium.
There is no registration required to enter the event, and everything is free. Children receive a bracelet to redeem a gift and a ticket for a bicycle, which are given away on a first-come, first-served basis.
"I'm so happy that so many different facets of the community are coming together to make this possible," Cashwell said.
Edward Jones is executive director for the Concerned Citizens group of Peninsula/Lowcountry. For the past 10 years, its members have been mentoring inner-city youth. Jones has organized the carnival section of the stadium event, where kids will enjoy a bounce-house, petting zoo and hot dogs.
Jones said all the hard work is worth it when he sees the results. Last year, he said he watched with glee as children smiled, riding their bikes away.
"You really, really help those kids to make Christmas possible, show them what Christmas is about," Jones said.
He said he also loves the event because it's held in reach of those in need.
"A lot of them don't have transportation," he said. "We put something like this right in the neighborhood."
Cashwell also wanted the public to know that it's not too late to donate items. The event will go on until 3 p.m., so he asks anyone who would like to donate a gently used or new children's bicycle or prepared food, to drop it at the stadium.
The group will start organizing the 2014 party in January.
"We're looking forward to next year," Jones said. "We want to get bigger and bigger every year."
Reach Natalie Caula Hauff at 937-5594 or Twitter.com/ncaula.