Last holiday season, festivities started earlier than usual for 150 children and their families when the Del Mar Rotary Club hosted its annual Children’s Christmas Party on Dec. 8. In addition to a visit from “Santa Clause,” the preschoolers in attendance sang Christmas carols and received a new toy and clothing donated by Rotary members.
“The men and women who are in Rotary realize how blessed we are and how excited these children get to see this guy in a red outfit called Santa Claus,” said Marty Peters, a Del Mar Rotary member since 1978. “They really felt they were in the Christmas spirit when they partook in this kids’ Christmas party.” Peters has been involved in planning the yearly celebration since its inception.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, the Del Mar Rotarians used to hold a Christmas party for their own children and grandchildren. Then a new Rotary member, Al Graff, suggested hosting the celebration for children who lived in the surrounding area of Eden Gardens and were part of Head Start, a government program that promoted school readiness for young children from low-income families.
The first Christmas party was held at Morgan Run Club & Resort (formerly Whispering Palms) in Rancho Santa Fe in 1991. Rotary members rented a bus to bring about 40 children who were part of the Head Start program to the celebration. “It changed our members’ hearts and minds,” said Peters. “You could see that these children were not only dressed in their Sunday best, they couldn’t believe this beautiful thing was happening to them.” Since then, the Del Mar Children’s Christmas Party has become an annual tradition, hosting about 50 to 60 children each time.
This year was the largest turnout after Rotary members invited all of the children who live in Eden Gardens, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Solana Beach. Also known as La Colonia, the area was formed in the 1920s by Mexican farmers.
“My favorite memory was really the first Christmas party that we had for the children,” said 97-year-old Graff, formerly a nuclear engineer. Since then, Graff said he has attended most of the celebrations over the years and has seen how it has made a difference in the children’s lives. “The most important thing is that we’re really affirming these little children by having them. It gives them a feeling of real importance,” he said.
Peters recalled about three years ago when a girl approached him and shared her memories of going to the Christmas party. “She said she never forgot that we were so open and welcoming and she had been encouraged by that,” said Peters. She is now finishing her undergraduate pre-med degree at UCLA and planning to go on to medical school.
In the past, the party was often planned at a local hotel. This past year in 2016, it was held at the La Colonia branch of the Boys & Girls Club in Solana Beach, where Peters has been part of the executive board for 40 years. The families invited offered to prepare and bring all of the food to feed those in attendance.
Students from the local middle school and high schools were also invited to celebrate with the children. “What’s beautiful about it is the students feel like they are part of this gift to the children,” said Peters.
The Del Mar Rotary Club was formed in May 1954. Peters said it is made up of approximately 65 men and women who want to help humanity and make a difference in people’s lives. As a former president and governor of Del Mar Rotary Club, he said they talk about common things they want to do to make local communities better.
The Del Mar Rotary Club takes part in many activities throughout the year, including building a school in Vietnam, helping refugees in Chechnya, and getting involved in local projects such as beach cleanups, blood drives and other volunteer opportunities.
“We want to participate in projects where we can go out and dig holes and pound nails, whether it’s in Del Mar, Solana Beach, Baja Mexico or places around the world,” said Peters. “We’re not a flash in the pan. Rotary is there to change lives and make a difference for the long haul. That’s a global commitment that we’ve made to everything that we do in Rotary.”
Founded in 1905, Rotary consists of more than 35,000 clubs in over 220 countries and territories around the world. “The common bond is this feeling, this spirit, that there are 1.25 million of these people all over the world doing the exact same thing in their little clubs that we’re doing in our club,” said Peters.
“If you have a passion to serve, there is always a great place for you to fit,” said Peters. “Once you become engaged, it’s a life-changing mission.”
For more information, contact Marty Peters at 858-755-0201 or visit www.delmarrotary.org.