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  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Guests wait as gifts are given out at the Holiday Celebration party at the McMillen Park Community Center on Saturday. The sixth annual celebration included games, face painting, live animals, music, gifts and more.

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette DJ Landis Kelsaw from LDJ Entertainment, left, and saxophone player Mike DePew provide live music at the Holiday Celebration party at the McMillen Park Community Center on Saturday.  

Sunday, December 17, 2017 1:00 am

McMillen celebrates 6th annual holiday gathering

JAMIE DUFFY | The Journal Gazette

Kids and families who walked or skipped out of the McMillen Center on Saturday afternoon left with a smile on their faces and a goody bag in their hands.

It was the sixth annual holiday celebration organized by Wayne Township Trustee Rick Stevenson and his staff, a place where girls and boys came to play bean bag or ping pong ball toss, throw a football into a net, stomp on balloons and play a game called plinko. They had their pick of face painting, free balloons, a bouncy castle to jump around in and a petting zoo.

And bowls of candy everywhere, besides free refreshments.

Adults homed in on the holiday prizes that included bicycles, microwaves, Kindles and televisions.

“All kinds of good stuff,” said Bennie Lewis, event coordinator at the McMillen Center, renovated in 2013.

Lewis and Stevenson oversaw the awarding of medals to the winners of the three-on-three basketball tournament, a short ceremony that delighted Stevenson.

As three third- and fourth-grade boys walked off with first-, second- and third-place finishes, he consoled a boy whose team won third and was upset about it.

“I tried to tell him the most important thing is his books,” Stevenson said, shouting over the din of bouncing basketballs and music.

Nevertheless, basketball is important to him and many others who came to the party. Stevenson was quick to say that his great nephew, Keion Brooks, who plays on the North Side High School basketball team, scored 52 points the night before, and when Stevenson played basketball for the Central High School Tigers, the team won the Sectional Championship in 1964.

Lewis estimated that 1,500 people would join the party Saturday afternoon, but in years past, before there were other such parties and toy giveaways, the number could be as high as 3,000.

The Wayne Township team starts collecting donations in August and has several organizations that dig deep: Fort Wayne Mad Ants, Sweetwater Music, Fort Wayne Komets and Sandpoint Interiors. No one goes home empty-handed.

The event also requires lots of volunteers. Homestead High School sisters Jacinda and Jasmine Sykes volunteered through their school's Key Club, a service club. They worked the balloon stomp until the balloons were all gone. Looking over to the other side of the game room, it was unmistakable where the focus was.

“That raffle is really hot,” Jacinda Sykes said. The mic was also hot as a steady stream of lucky raffle numbers were called out for the bigger prizes.

For Quavion Masterson, 10, the afternoon was a good time, he said, as he sent the six bean bags at his disposal, one by one, into the board. Two of his bean bags made it through the holes.

He was there with his grandmother, Doranna Turner, and his mother, Denique Masterson.

He already had a gold tattoo on his arm and was hoping for some hair dye, but that too, had run out.

But what he really wants for Christmas is some Wide World of Wrestling gear. Mom said Santa probably had that covered.

“It's the high point of our year to be able to put smiles on so many faces at our Holiday Celebration,” Stevenson said in a news release. “When I was a child, there were times when my parents would take us to such parties, and the gifts I got there were the only things under the tree for me that year. I want to do that for other kids and families who might be in the same boat. I am so proud that my staff and the Wayne Township community can come together and make happen such a fabulous party for the young and old alike.”