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NORTH POLE ANNEX: Santa's Workshop returns to downtown

Santa and Mrs. Claus, the Grinch and a couple of special elves moved the North Pole workshop to Great Bend for one night only on Monday, when the Great Bend Recreation Commission hosted Santa’s Workshop.

Cousin Eddie and the Griswold family station wagon from “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation" were also there.

This was the 26th year for the annual event, which returned to the City Auditorium and Great Bend Recreation Center after a hiatus during the COVID-19 pandemic, where it was a drive-through event. For two hours, children and their families filled the auditorium floor to take part in crafts and other activities, such as getting decked out in plush reindeer antlers and having face painters add a red circle to their noses. There was a fish pond and balloons, and all sorts of scenery for photo opportunities. There was also a special mailbox where children could leave their letters to Santa, or they could talk to him in person.

GBRC Executive Director Chris Umphres said the event “went great as always.”

“The big thing was moving back indoors,” he said. “We did Santa’s Express drive-through in 2020 and 2021. There are pros and cons to both events.”

This year, the GBRC staff, led by Enrichment and Activity Director Garet Fitzpatrick, added popup displays, fiberglass figures, photo opportunities, dozens of trees, a “fishing boat” for the fish pond, and gym wall banner wraps.

“This really transformed the City Auditorium like never before,” Umphres said.

The free event was geared for children from preschool through sixth grade, but preschoolers could also attend a mini-workshop in the Burnside Room of the Rec Center for an experience that was less overwhelming, with age-appropriate arts and crafts.

Fitzpatrick said attendance was close to pre-COVID levels. Although he didn’t have an estimate on the number of people who attended, he provided a few (approximate) numbers:

• one large bottle of helium was used to blow up 750 balloons

• 900 fish pond prizes

• 720 sugar cookies 

• 700 plush reindeer antlers

• 400-700 each: jingle bell necklaces, paper mache Christmas trees, and snowman paper bag crafts for kids to decorate

“We had a number of Great Bend First Responders helping hand out candy, balloons, necklaces and other handouts,” Fitzpatrick said.

“The program would not be possible without the help of the Great Bend High School student organizations,” he added. “I would also like to thank Sunflower Early Education Center, USD 428 Parents as Teachers, USD 428 Parent-Teacher Resource Center and Great Bend Public Library Children’s Department for hosting a preschool area in the GB Rec Burnside Room.”