Last Friday afternoon, the Del Mar Fairgrounds was the happiest place on Earth for a couple of hours when the Del Mar Rotary hosted a Christmas party for 74 children from St. Leo's Head Start Preschool in Solana Beach.
"This is my favorite day," said Dee House, who for the 18th year in a row dressed up as Mrs. Claus.
House's sentiment was repeated by nearly all Rotarians in attendance, as they interacted with smiling, excited St. Leo's children dressed in pretty holiday dresses and sweet miniature suits.
Since 1991, the Del Mar Rotary has hosted a party for St. Leo's Head Start, which caters to preschool children of low-income families, not only educating and enriching the life of the child but also helping train parents.
"It's one of the highlights of our year because they are so appreciative," said Rotary president Janice Kurth.
Kurth said they've had children look around at the Del Mar Fairgrounds Turf Club setting and say it's the nicest place they've ever been. The children feel special when waiters serve them lunch to their table, milk and pizza and dessert.
And they all anxiously await the arrival of Santa Claus. At one table in the back Joslyn Vasquez and Nathaly Vargas scrambled to get a peek at him once he'd entered the room with great fanfare and musical accompaniment by Dr. Ed Siegel on the keyboard.
Each child got to come up and visit Santa and get a present, thanks to Rotary members.
"For some of the kids it may be the only one they get," Kurth said. "We love making their Christmas."
Preschool director Mary Badiozamani said she couldn't thank the Rotary enough for continuing to support their school.
"You bless us with your kindness, how you open your hearts to our children," Badiozamani said.
Celebrating along with the Rotarians were Interact Clubs from Cathedral Catholic and Torrey Pines High Schools. Interact is a way for high school students to learn early about the ways Rotary works to give back to the community.
Torrey Pines junior Kylie McGlynn has been involved with Interact since her freshman year, now serving as the club president.
"I am so passionate about the club I dropped everything else just to focus on this," McGlynn said. She said she regularly attends Rotary meetings and is inspired by their commitment to community service.
"They have no purpose to do it except for themselves," McGlynn said. "It's cool that people enjoy giving back."