There were plenty of smiles to go around as volunteers from Loma Linda University welcomed hundreds of kids from the community to the 2016 Christmas Fiesta.

Hundreds of local kids and their families gathered at SAC Norton Clinic in San Bernardino for the annual Christmas Fiesta on Dec. 10, celebrating Jesus’ birth.

The 277 children attending the fiesta were met by 163 volunteers from Loma Linda University Health, both students and staff.

“We wanted the afternoon to focus on the story of Jesus’ birth,” says Tina Pruna, MPH, director, Community-Academic Partners in Service (CAPS). “As the kids arrived, they completed a nativity scene at an arts and crafts booth. They also created a Christmas ornament and participated in a sensory station staffed by occupational therapy students from the School of Allied Health Professions.”

Two local churches also participated: the Azure Hills Church provided a program for the parents while members of the Loma Linda Filipino Church performed the program’s culminating event, a play about the nativity.

“At Loma Linda University, CAPS is where students and staff become involved with local service opportunities,” says Pruna. “Many of the kids who participated in the Christmas Fiesta have attended tutoring and musical after school programs with CAPS. Other families learned about the Christmas Fiesta through announcements posted at SAC Norton and the new SAC clinic at Loma Linda University Health -- San Bernardino.”

While Christmas gifts for the kids had been donated ahead of time, the day of the fiesta a generous donor provided additional presents to make sure that each child received a gift. There was also a gift for the parents -- a tamale pot filled with groceries.

Many Loma Linda University alumni remember participating in the Christmas Fiesta when it was sponsored by Students for International Mission Service (SIMS) and was called the Adopt-A-Kid Christmas Party.

“This event has a long history,” says Pruna. “While I found records of the Adopt-A-Kid Christmas party beginning in the 1990s, it was interesting to learn that it was started by SAC Health System in the early 1970s. It is nice to see the excitement from our own students and staff today.”