PARRISH -- For the 28th year, Parrish residents opened their hearts Thursday to farmworker children and others from homes of modest means with its annual Christmas party.
More than 130 children and their families were invited this year, selected with the help of North River school principals, guidance counselors and teachers, said Iris McClain, event co-chairwoman with Stacey McKee of the Parrish YMCA.
Singers from Parrish Playworks got the crowd at the Parrish Community Center into the holiday spirit with happy Christmas carols such as "Jingle Bells" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," as well as the traditional "O Holy Night."
Each child left with a large bag of eight to 10 gifts as well as balloon art, painted faces and homemade Christmas cookies.
Gifts were contributed by Parrish neighborhoods, including Veranda Springs and River Wilderness, the YMCA, local schools and Toys for Tots.
"For a lot of these kids, this is the only Christmas they will have," said Ben Jordan, president of the Parrish Civic Association.
The late Joan Hodges, a River Wilderness resident, chaired the annual children's Christmas party for more than 15 years, and helped set the tone for making the program entertaining and exciting.
"I don't have any grandchildren," Hodges once said. "So maybe that's why I'm so interested in children services."
The highlight of the Parrish children's Christmas party is always the entry of Santa and Mrs. Claus into the Parrish Community Center, with children running to embrace the red-and-white clad icons.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter@jajones1.