Little ones get big surprise from Rotary


There was hardly any squirming in Santa Claus’ lap at the Del Mar Rotary’s annual Christmas party.

Children from Solana Beach’s St. Leo’s Head Start program were more than happy to see jolly old St. Nick and their smiles grew even bigger as they each received a Christmas gift of their own.

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. Their focus is on not only educating and enriching the life of the child but also training parents.

St. Leo’s brought 72 children to the Dec. 11 event, the Rotary even provided the school bus transportation to the Del Mar Fairgrounds venue.

“It’s wonderful,” said Mary Badiozamani, St. Leo’s director. “They open their hearts to these kids and they are so generous. We look forward to it every year.”

While the Rotarians stood in line for their banquet lunch, waiters served the children.

Handmade thank you cards made by the students sat on each table for the Rotarians.

Smiles all around

“This is absolutely hands down my favorite thing that we do,” said Dee House, who always dresses up as Mrs. Claus. “Look at their eyes, those smiles. I love this.”

House has played Mrs. Claus nearly every year for the last 17 years - she’s only missed the party once.

Nearly everyone involved says it’s their favorite event - 2006 Torrey Pines graduate Krista Neeley and former Interact club member came home from Brigham Young University in Idaho to attend.

Community counts

Before they started the party for St. Leo’s, the Rotary held an annual Christmas party for their own children.

Then Rotary governor Marty Peters had been working with St. Leo’s and thought it might be a better idea to help bring Christmas to children that maybe weren’t as blessed as their families.

Peters called the event “beautiful” and a few tears brimmed in his eyes as he told the story of a girl who came to the parties as a child and went on to graduate from UCLA.

“She told me it was the first time she felt that the community wanted her to be a part of it and wanted her to succeed,” Peters said.

Dr. Ed Siegel, a psychiatrist from Solana Beach, serenaded the attendees with song.

He played everything from selections from the “Nutcracker Suite” to songs of his own creation like “Old McSanta Had a Farm.” And, what does a reindeer sound like? Only the doctor knows.