As Santa Claus made his entrance at the Al Bedoo Shrine Christmas party Sunday in Billings, dozens of kids cheered and ran to greet him. The kids quickly surrounded the big guy as two children, one holding each of Santa’s hands, escorted him into the room.
The children knew what to do. They formed a line, single file, and patiently waited for their turn on Santa’s lap.
“So Merry Christmas!” Santa Claus said, settling into his chair.
One little boy dressed in blue slacks, a white shirt and a blue vest pointed to Santa’s head. “Nice hat,” he said.
Santa chatted with each child, sometimes two, on his knee, while older children, dressed as elves, handed out presents. Each bag had an apple, an orange, chocolate, erasers and pencils.
The party at the Al Bedoo Shrine auditorium was a chance for children and their parents and guests to celebrate the holidays with games, music and a lunch.
Paul Lechner, the potentate, or leader, of the local chapter, said, “We’re just having fun with our patients. Being a Shriner. Having fun. Helping kids.”
The Christmas party was the 16th annual event sponsored by the Al Bedoo Shrine Hospital Corps. The Shriners provide medical care at no cost to children at Shriners Hospitals for Children. Lechner said the local group supports the Shriners Hospital in Spokane, Wash.
The local Shriners help between 50 to 150 children in the Billings area, oftentimes by providing transportation to out-of-state hospitals, Lechner said.
The big fundraising event is the annual East-West football game that features all-star players from Montana high schools. This year, the event raised $146,000, Lechner said. In 2014, the game will be held in July in Laurel, he said.
About 50 of the Al Bedoo members, most of whom wore their trademark maroon Fezzes, participated in the party. The brass and oriental bands entertained the guests with music, while clowns played with the kids. Other members served a lunch of hot dogs, fried chicken, baked beans and salad.
Face painting was another popular activity.
Corbin Reed, a three-and-a-half-year-old from Columbus, sat on his mother’s lap while a woman painted a candy cane on his cheek.
This was the first year the Reed family has attended the party. Wendy Reed, Corbin’s mother, said the Shriners sent Corbin to a hospital in Sacramento, where he was treated for a hearing condition called microtia, in which his left ear did not fully form and he has no hearing on his left side.
The youngster is being treated with ear reconstruction and was fitted with a bone anchor hearing aid, Wendy Reed said. Corbin can hear normally with his right ear.
Older sister Meaghan held her little sister, Sarah, who also sported a candy cane on her cheek, and watched while it was Corbin’s turn.
They selected candy canes because, she said, “We just thought it would be the simplest.”