Extravagant Christmas party hosted for 200 local foster children, families
Thanks to dozens of warm hearts and busy hands, foster children and families in Ozark, Douglas and Wright Counties were welcomed with open arms to an extravagant The Polar Express-themed Christmas party thrown in their honor Dec. 10 in Ava.
“For all who give, shop, serve, create, pray and love… thank you!” said Stacy Hawkins Garrison, who helps put on the event with the Missouri Division of Family Services employees, area churches, individuals and community members in the three-county area. Garrison, a fifth grade teacher at Gainesville Elementary School, lives in Gainesville with her husband, Brian Garrison, a pastor at Ava Assembly of God.
“This was our first sit down event since before covid, and we could not have asked for it to be any better. Not only were our local foster children celebrated, as every child deserves, we were able to serve many of our foster families thanks to the dedicated workers who go above and beyond for the children and this community. We truly could not do it without the community support, and were humbled with more than $10,000 in donations that helped soften the blow of inflated costs of gifts and materials needed to make this night a huge success,” Garrison added.
The magic began when the special guests entered the beautifully-decorated Ava Nazarene Church through a door with a large “train station” sign situated above it. After pushing through the train station doors, guests continued into the building where the church’s walls were transformed into scenes from the popular Christmas movie, “The Polar Express.”
The lights were turned down low in the large dining room, which was beautifully offset the warm white lights draped from above and large craft paper snowflakes hanging from the ceiling. Rustic wooden tables offered guests sweets and treats, and pine boughs hanging from rustic poles draped in white lights created a wintery atmosphere.
A large black locomotive was situated near the center of the room as a nod to the theme, and train-themed stations throughout the room allowed guests to come and go.
Dozens of tables were decked out with white tablecloths, accented by candlelight or flickering lanterns and a centerpiece of a wooden rustic sleigh filled with peppermints and Christmas greens.
A traditional Christmas dinner was prepared for 300 people by a group of women from Mammoth Assembly of God Church in Ozark County along with help from Noble resident April Luna. The feast included ham, turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, corn, rolls and butter.
“Those ladies ran the smoothest kitchen I’ve ever witnessed,” Garrison said.
Douglas County Sheriff Chris Degase and his deputies served the Christmas meal, which was extra special to many of the foster children as some have faced significant food insecurity at different points in their short lives, organizers say.
After dinner, guests were treated to a hot cocoa bar featuring traditional mini marshmallows and a variety of other toppings as well as a display of Christmas cookies, cupcakes, brownies and other desserts.
Hundreds of wrapped presents made their way into the gym, the result of each child’s Christmas wish list being fulfilled by individuals and area churches.
A table in the corner was filled with other fun toys, electronics and gifts that were given away as door prizes.
The night ended with lots of smiles, warm hearts and happy Christmas tidings.
The Christmas party is made possible each year with hundreds of hours of work and dozens of people who each had their own individual touch in making the night special, Garrison said.
Although she said she couldn’t begin to name everyone who had a hand in the event (including many fellow Ozark Countians) for fear that she would forget to name someone, she extended her sincere gratitude for each and every person who pitched in. She said the foster children in the area wouldn’t have had nearly as special of a party if it weren’t for the hard work and help from so many people.