South Coast Plaza looked as busy as ever on that Dec 6th evening, but something was different. Almost everyone was wearing either a red or green t-shirt. What was going on? Shoppers in the trendy Orange County mall would never be dressed in matchy t-shirts. Tables were being set up, giant stuffed animals coming to life, food coming from all directions, music playing, games and crafts being readied, Santa practicing his Ho, Ho, Ho's. The mall was, for one night, not open to the public. The Sharing the Spirit annual Holiday Party was about to begin. 600 of the neediest kids in Orange County were invited to a fun evening put on by the Happiness Project; an evening just for them.
Girl Scout troop 1171 got the choice to be elves or to host a table so they could participate in the fun at the Sharing the Spirit Holiday Party. The girls decided to do both. Some of them played "elves" by taking groups of kids around to the many stations to do the activities. The rest of the troop worked at our game and crafts booths. It was a whirlwind of kids and volunteers. Lots of chaos, but lots of fun for all, kids and volunteers.
South Coast Plaza opened it's doors until midnight to help put on this amazing evening for the homeless youth in Orange County. I don't know the exact numbers today, but the Orange County Department of Education reported 28,000 of their students as homeless in the 2010-2011 school year. That number is hard to believe in what is considered to be such a prosperous area. Some of these kids live completely without a home and some are identified as living in substandard conditions, such as 3 to 4 families in a single apartment, or whole families living in a one room motel. Many of these children eat just one meal per day or less.
The agency that hosted this event is the Happiness Project. They have teamed up with several Orange County shelters to locate children who are in need of the most help. These are some of the kids that were invited to the party. The things they receive at this party may be the only gifts they get this year for Christmas. The mission of the Happiness Project is to spread love and happiness to children in need by providing the life essentials they desperately need and deserve. By raising money, gathering gifts that will allow them to live a healthy life, help them attend school and never go unfed, the Happiness Project hopes the children will have a brighter future.
Many of the stores at South Coast plaza donated their time and supplies, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, church groups, restaurants and hundreds of other volunteers all made the evening special for the kids. There were crafts galore, face painting, nail art, games of all sorts, therapy dogs to pet, music, video games, yummy food, cookie decorating, giant characters, gifts for all and of course Santa. Our troop had two tables, one doing crafts for one of the stores and our own doing games. Our "Shoot the Box" and "Feeding Santa" games were both hits. The troop enjoyed their evening whether they were helping take the kids around or working the stations. This is the second year for some of the girls and I know they will be back to help next year.
Sharing the Spirit is an annual event for the Happiness Project. For more information on the work they do year round please go to their website Helpockids.org