Twenty-five underprivileged children were the honored guests at a Christmas party in Van on Tuesday evening.
A tour bus arrived at The Salvation Army in Tyler on Tuesday evening to transport every child and their parents living in the shelter to the home of Keith and Sharon Hilliard in Van, where there was a Christmas party planned in their honor. The evening included dinner, a magician, a candy buffet and a visit from Santa, who brought them each a gift and a stocking full of toys.
Inside the bus, 3-year-old Bethany Winton was bursting with excitement and couldn’t wait to see Christmas lights and Santa, who she hoped brought her a new Barbie doll.
Her mother, Anna Michelle Winton, 40, said Bethany and her siblings Sean and Aaralyn were wound up like drums with excitement to see the Jolly Old Elf.
Ms. Winton said she was thankful that her family would have a Christmas celebration.
“It means a lot ... because outside of their home we wouldn’t have that,” she said.
The Hilliards, owners of Hilliard Funeral Home, love to entertain in their French-style home. Mrs. Hilliard said the house is beautiful during Christmastime. It takes about a week to get all of the decorations up with the help of a friend, she said.
“We are used to having kids running through the house, so it’s nothing new for us,” she said.
The idea for the shindig started when a friend of Mrs. Hilliard, who works at The Salvation Army, asked her to host a party for the children there. She asked her friends for manpower and financial help to pull together enough supplies and toys for the party. The travel bus was donated by Chuck’s Travel Coaches, and Southside Bank donated the gas money for the ride.
“I have one man here that is volunteering (who said as a) child he wouldn’t have had a Christmas without The Salvation Army,” Mrs. Hilliard said.
Chantel Millin, spokeswoman for the nonprofit, said the families and the organization were thankful for the Hilliard’s generosity.
“A lot of kids get that (Christmas experience from) the day after Thanksgiving until the day of Christmas,” she said. “Our kids are in a lodge. They don’t get that exact experience per say. I think it is really (wonderful) for the Hilliard family to open their home to our kids and allow them to have the full Christmas experience, even if it is just for one night.”
Mrs. Hilliard said she was excited to see how the evening went and if it went well, it could become a new holiday tradition.
“I think we are all going to be so humbled and touched by this, it could very well be a new tradition,” she said.