Gifts lined the stage Thursday at the St. James Sports Center as children fidgeted in their seats and waited for their names to be called.
A tradition for the last 12 years, St. James Holiness Church transformed its adjoining sports center into a Christmas banquet hall and children’s wonderland.
Each year, the church offers an after-school program called the "Kool Kids for Christ." The program provides free tutoring, meals and Bible study for youth. On Thursday, many of those kids were treated to an early Christmas.
Local attorney Jay Osteen played the role of Santa Claus, reading a list of children’s names. It was organized according to attendance records, and one by one, the children rushed the stage to choose from televisions, bicycles, games, dolls and more. Afterwards, kids from the Holmestown community got to select from among the remaining toys.
Pastor Marvin Kelly greeted the guests, Kool Kids participant Courdell Golden gave the opening prayer, and after-school coordinator Alfreda Golden emceed the opening ceremony.
State Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, was among the guests, who were all treated to a wonderful meal thanks to Janice Relaford.
"This is the best thing in the country right now," Williams said of the event.
"I would like to thank all our staff," said Ernie Walthour, the director of operations at St. James. "They have done a wonderful job throughout the whole year working with our children."
Walthour said the event would not have been possible without the constant help of Deacon Board members Alfred Golden, Nate Golden and Tony Johnson.
Walthour also thanked the United Way of Liberty County and Hinesville law firm Osteen and Osteen.
"There have been some challenges as we were building to make this a great program," Walthour said. "And I think we have succeeded in doing that. We just want to take the time to thank all our volunteers and the folks who have supported us at St. James."