By Brandie Gay
Special to the Vandalia Leader
Last Saturday the wind and cold came barreling into Vandalia but that wouldn’t stop the magic that the townsfolk had planned. The day started with Christmas From a Small Town Heart. Lori Culwell, Van-Far Parents as Teachers educator started this tradition seven years ago by creating a one-stop shop for the children to shop for their loved ones and have their gifts wrapped.
She wanted to teach the kids a feeling, a feeling you can only learn by doing; the feeling you get when giving. And that translates to: giving is much more rewarding than receiving.
What better way to teach children by letting them experience the gift of giving every Christmas? The gift is only they know the contents once it’s wrapped and placed under the tree for their loved ones.
With this, Lori asked for help from her community. Locals would donate crafts, ornaments, jewelry, toys, household items, etc., to create a store for the children at Van-Far to “shop” for free. Once the children pick out gifts for each family member, they take them to the wrapping station run by volunteers to wrap them.
From there, the kids box up their gifts and take them home, so on Christmas morning they are able to hand their gifts out and watch the excitement. This gives them a chance to experience the feeling of giving a gift to a loved one at Christmas.
Every year, this event grows, and this year was no exception. Lori said there were 100 more kids shopping this year than there was last year. Christmas from a Small Town Heart was held at the First Baptist Church from 2 – 5:30 p.m. If people are interested, she asked that they consider donating gently used items for next year’s Christmas from a Small Town Heart.
The third annual Lighted Christmas Parade kicked off at 6 p.m. Participants were lining up as early as 2 p.m. at the Vandalia Area Fairgrounds. Several locals pulled together to organize this highly anticipated evening.
People from all over Missouri lined the streets of Vandalia as 66 lighted floats and vehicles rolled down Main Street. Pictures do not do justice as all 66 entries were immaculate. The parade planners could not have asked for better participation. It was evident that they spent a lot of time and effort putting their entries together.
It would be difficult to choose a favorite parade float because of how perfectly thought out and executed they were.
Much thanks should go to those who handed out candy during the parade. This is a hectic, exhausting job, one that Heather Minter, Carmen Wilburn, Mylee Keller, Trinity Skwirtz, Jennifer Williams, Carrie Risenhoover, Christy Chastain, Jaz Chastain, Reeve Woodall, Dalana Gay, Michael and Darrah Klug took on with great enthusiasm.
The candy donations made all the difference. Graf and Sons, Kelly and Micky Mink, United Credit Union, Vandalia Area Fairboard, Water’s Funeral Home, Bob Giltner, Rick Mollerus, and Rick Nation all donated candy for the event.
People should also thank the Vandalia Area Fair Board for allowing the parade to line up at the fairgrounds. The sheer number of vehicles meant the room was needed.
And the fun didn’t end with the parade. Downtown was the place to be, even though it was windy and cold. After leading the parade, Santa Claus lit the beautifully decorated Christmas tree located by the Vandalia Area Chamber of Commerce.
Santa with the help of his trusty elves Zoe Gibson and I, visited with each child and posed for a picture in the historical church. The children received a toothbrush and a book to counter all that candy from the parade.
Jordyn Chrisman donagted the toothbrushes. Marilyn Schlueter and Louis Clark, along with special guest Rebecca Embree, filled the air with holiday cheer as they entertained the crowd with their musical talent.
They wanted to thank Rodney Smith because he donated his time and equipment for the event. Marilyn is already making plans for next year.
Charlene Goodpasutre and Cami Blackman organized a free soup supper for everyone to enjoy. They had a variety of soups and chili for everyone while they listened to the music or they waited in line for Santa.
Helping them clean up after the event were Ramsey Dickerman, Lisa Lovell, Brian Hummel, Charlene Goodpasture, Kyle Fisher, and Al Blackman.
A big thank you goes out to the following for donating soup: LeFemme Club, Spencer Creek, First Baptist Church, Southside Baptist, Faith Tabernacle, Catholic Church, Presbyterian Church and Sue Robinett. Thank you to the Catholic Church Alter and Rosary Ladies, Pete Nasir, Kyle Fisher, Al Blackman, and Charlene Goodpasture for supplies.
Lastly, Audra and Michael Evans should receive thanks. Everything seen downtown was brought and organized by the Evans family. They supplied 400 hotdogs, 400 cookies, chili, hot cocoa, popcorn, and tea for anyone that visited their window—all for free.
Audra decorated 100 special ornaments, placed them in a goodie bags and handed them out to the first 100 children who visited them.
Michael supplied both the POET trailer, the trailer for the stage, picnic tables, dumpster, and spent time cutting trees for decorations. They also sponsored the drone that recorded the parade so people could look back on this day over and over again.
There were several helpers at the food trailer Saturday night. Those people worked in the cold conditions to make sure everyone was taken care of. Saturday evening was truly magical and the perfect way to start the holiday season.
Happy 100th birthday goes out to Carl Moore Jr. who was the parade’s grand marshal.
Plans to improve next year’s event are already in motion. Everyone could be a part of this parade that takes place on the second weekend in December.
Watching everyone’s faces light up creates a wonderful feeling. There is so much Christmas joy. It was like creating a Hallmark movie right here in Vandalia.
Time moves so quickly, and everyone is so busy. It’s events such as this that allows people to slow down and enjoy their friends and family. And it’s important to not forget the reason for the season. The Van-Far community is truly amazing and it shows what it’s like to live in a small town. Thank you all and MERRY CHRISTMAS!