Children of East St. Louis School District 189 crowd around Santa Claus.
More than 1,900 boys and girls from East St. Louis School District 189 visited a winter wonderland at the Casino Queen Hotel, where they were surprised with a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus at the Casino’s 22nd Annual Toyland event Dec. 15-16.
Their little eyes gleamed at the sight of Santa as they waited their turn to meet him and Mrs. Claus before they were each given a bag filled with presents. The magic of giving filled the room as the little ones hauled their gifts back onto their bus with excitement and smiles.
“Being able to impact the lives of thousands of children is the best gift of all,” said Jeff Watson, the casino’s president and general manager. “As you walked into the hotel, you could hear the excitement and energy as they each took their turn to meet Santa and Mrs. Claus. We consider ourselves the lucky ones, as we are able to continue this special tradition, now in its 22nd year. We even have some employees here at the Casino Queen who remember when it was their turn to meet Santa and take home their very own gift and now get to be a part of this ongoing tradition in our community.”
Every child in attendance, ages pre-kindergarten to second grade, received his or her own bag. The bag included gifts encompassing both the fun and practical including: knit hat, socks, gloves, president ruler, animal crackers, Poppin Hoppies board game and a Crayola activity center.
Casino employees and additional volunteers took all day Monday, Dec. 14, to make sure the gifts and ballroom were ready for the children. The hotel ballroom was transformed into a winter wonderland with trees and several giant holiday inflatables. Additional volunteers included three dozen student athletes from Southwestern Illinois College’s baseball team, who took time out of their busy finals week to work together to fill each bag with all of the gifts. The Toyland event began more 20 years ago and has continued to bring joy and happiness to more than 42,000 children over the past two decades.