The Hinesville Rotary Club hosted its annual Dodd-Brown Christmas party Tuesday evening for area foster children.
About 20 kids gathered with their foster parents, Rotarians and members of local Interact clubs at the La Quinta Inn in Flemington to enjoy food, fellowship and gifts, as each Rotarian “adopted” a foster child to provide a present for.
“This is huge for the kids,” said Shawn Brown, county director of the Liberty/Long Department of Family and Child Services. “These kids … through no fault of their own have been through difficult circumstances. And for a child to have somebody that they don’t know take the time to prepare gifts for them, to prepare a program for them, is an amazing sign of love.”
According to Hinesville Rotary Club President Brigitte Shanken, the Dodd-Brown Christmas party is a long-standing Rotary tradition, although it has gone by different names.
The party originally was named for the late Bobby Brown, who is credited with helping found the Hinesville Rotary Club and the annual children’s party. Last year, however, Rotarians decided to add the late Gary Dodd’s name to the party in honor of Dodd’s service to the club and his numerous other civic and charitable activities.
It also was thanks to Dodd that McDonald’s came to be partners with the Rotary Club for the annual event. Dodd owned McDonald’s franchises in Hinesville, Jesup, Glennville and Claxton.
Shanken said that Dodd’s wife, Lisa, and his daughter now carry on the tradition of providing Happy Meals to the foster children during the party.
Members of local Interact clubs also were on hand Tuesday evening, helping pass out Happy Meals and distribute presents.
First Presbyterian Christian Academy Interact Club President Michelle Roberts, along with FPCA Interact members Elise Letnaunchyn and Gia Salbaboro and Liberty County High School Interact member Brooke DeLoach, helped put some last-minute decorations on the Christmas tree and helped lead the children in some holiday tunes.
Rotary Club members Col. Kirk Eggleston and Shannon Hickey provided music for the party, playing keyboard and flute, respectively.
Shanken said that a total of 34 foster kids received gifts from Rotarians, although not all of them were able to attend Tuesday’s party.
Brown spoke about the importance of the Rotary Club’s actions.
“I can speak for one of the kids last year … when the Rotary Club did this,” he said. “When they gave him his gift, tears just began to flow, and I asked him what was going on. He said he hadn’t celebrated Christmas in four years. So, you take a child that’s been through difficult circumstances and you allow them to be a part of a bigger community, to see that there are people out there that love them, that care about them, and it’s huge for them.”
“(Hopefully) what we do here tonight will allow you to leave the room with a smile on your face,” Shanken said. “If we achieve that, I think that we have done something good tonight.”