By Raiza Giorgi
The joyful faces of the children at the Vikings of Solvang’s annual Christmas Party show him the face of God, said Viking Chris Brown, who is also the pastor of Bethania Lutheran Church in Solvang.
“The kids are the absolute focus of this day, and for me this is one of the best events I get to be a part of,” Brown said just before this year’s busloads of kids began arriving at the Santa Ynez Valley Marriott on December 3.
More than 900 special-needs students from northern Santa Barbara County piled out of the buses and were greeted by familiar characters such as Frosty the Snowman, the Grinch, a Christmas elf, and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.
Viking Jim Cassidy is the chairman of the event each year, and he said it never gets old for him.
“The party planning begins in July for us, and we honestly all look forward to doing this. A lot of the kids don’t get to go to holiday parties and we really want them to feel honored and special,” Cassidy said.
One of the members refuses to relinquish his costume at the end of each year’s party because he loves wearing it year after year to make the kids smile and laugh, Cassidy said.
The Vikings of Solvang are well known to most valley residents for riding on their Viking ship in local parades, but the group’s community contributions are impressive. This year the group reached more than $3 million donated to those who need help to pay for medically related needs. Members of the Vikings remain steadfast in their mission to provide county residents with a better quality of life through paying medical expenses, assisting in patient advocacy, and hosting events to serve meals to senior citizens throughout the year.
“This group of fine men really do a phenomenal job to make our kids feel important,” said Justin Paduganan, a behavioral support specialist with Santa Maria Bonita School District.
His table of kids were happily feasting on hamburgers, French fries and treats that were served to them by Vikings and Marriott staff members.
Paduganan said that his students eagerly await this event every year because they get to see and visit with kids from other schools and former teachers.
After a visit with Santa and Mrs. Clause, each student left the party with a full stomach and a bucket of cookies from Olsen’s Bakery. Each of the teachers in attendance were given a $300 gift certificate to amazon.com for use in their classroom.
For more information, log onto www.vikingcharitiesinc.com.