STANFORD — Christmas came a few days early for hundreds of low-income Lincoln County children and their families who attended this year's Winterfest Friday at Lincoln County High School.
After a year of fundraising and working with teachers to identify students who could benefit the most from a little extra Christmas joy, it was time to continue the decades-old tradition in Lincoln County of feeding the kids and their families and handing out Christmas gifts.
Winterfest Committee Chairwoman Kendra Mitchell said this year, 235 children and their families were invited to Winterfest. For many of the kids who attended Friday's event, it could have been the only hot meal they would get all week, she said.
"We're always going to have the need, and unfortunately, the need is greater every year," she said. "If it wasn't for our banks and our small businesses donating their money, we couldn't make this happen."
Every year, the Winterfest Committee tries to raise enough money — usually around $8,000 — to give Lincoln County children in need food, presents and a visit with Santa, Mitchell said.
The funds raised cover the cost of presents, food and the labor put in by high school cafeteria staff preparing a Christmas dinner.
Every child who is in the fifth grade or younger gets a free, age-appropriate gift from Santa.
Dairy Queen donates Dilly Bars for everyone every year, and the high school contributes its cafeteria space free-of-charge.
Santa and Mrs. Clause donate their time, as do many members of high school athletics teams and other students.
"The part that sets Winterfest apart is we utilize so many of our young people," Mitchell said. "It lets them see other areas of their communities and areas of need … I think it's good to show them that they are blessed and that it's not always that way for everyone in Lincoln County."
Lincoln County baseball players Josh Wilson, Killen Day, Nate Benson and Nolan Sanders were just some of the high school students on-hand Thursday and Friday to do whatever was needed of them.
"For me, it's just because I want to help in the community," Wilson said. "I know that there are some who aren't as fortunate as we are and I want them to have a merry Christmas, too."
Mitchell said this year, the committee hasn't received enough donations yet to totally cover the costs of the event and will need to do some extra fund-raising after the fact to make up the difference.
Mitchell said the committee could also use extra volunteers to serve on the committee and help organize the annual event.
If you would like to contribute to the Winterfest Committee's efforts by volunteering or donating, call Andrea Miller at 606-365-4118.