Last weekend, I had the chance to attend Universal Studios Hollywood’s 28th Annual “Christmas in Spring”philanthropic event at MEND (Meet Each Need with Dignity) in Pacoima. The “Christmas in Spring” event gave families and their kids the chance to feel the Christmas Spirit and celebrate the holiday with dancing, carnival style games, gifts, and interactive moments with a variety of Dreamworks Animation characters and even a visit from Santa Claus. All of these activities served to invoke that feeling of giving during a time of year where there is less emphasis on that feeling.
Prior to attending the annual “Christmas in Spring” event, I hadn’t known that Universal Studios Hollywood had been hosting this particular event for almost three decades. I was curious about how the event came into fruition. Danielle Prado, the Senior Manager of Community Relations at Universal Studios Hollywood, explained: “It started with Universal Studios Hollywood executives many many years ago. And the spirit behind the event is really the fact that people are in need throughout the year and there’s generally an abundance of resources during the holiday season. However, that need is year round. So, the thought process was bringing the spirit of giving and the spirit of Christmas to families during the time of the year when it’s often not at the forefront of people’s minds.”
It was a truly splendid day and, as soon as I walked up to the gates of MEND, it became abundantly clear that this was truly a special occasion for the community. Kids were lined up with their parents to play carnival games near the entrance. As soon as you crossed the threshold, you were immediately met with the sound of laughter and it was hard not to notice the beaming smiles all around as you took in the positive energy that took over the event space. As I ventured further down, I was able to see that there were Arts and Crafts stations provided by the non-profit partner A Window Between Worlds. Further down in the tent, Santa hat-clad face painters were decking the cheeks of smiling children with great care. Outside of the tents, there was a DJ playing music like the “Cha Cha Slide”, which the Minions from Despicable Me happily joined. Around the corner, there were food stations prepared for families to take part in for lunch throughout the day. And this wasn’t just the end of it. No, there was a lot more waiting inside the MEND facility.
Waiting inside the MEND facility was Santa Class. Families lined up almost completely out the door when I arrived at the “Christmas in Spring” event. The demand for the Claus was huge! Once families made their way through the line, they got to take several pictures with Santa in front of a green screen to create that perfect Christmas portrait. As soon as they were done, they got to stop off tables where they were gifted a special Secret Life of Pets toy as well as a special sugary treat. It was hard not to smile as kids bounced up and down upon receiving their gifts and I swear my shriveled heart grew three sizes too big throughout my time there.
By the end of my time there, it became clear how important this event was to the community. And, as Prado explained, the reactions of the community are what really make the event come alive: “The response is tremendous. We had families lined up here at about 8 AM and the event was intended to start at 11 AM. Just observing the children coming through and just getting them their bags for goodies and hearing, “This is so awesome.” Seeing them get to meet a character like a Minion…I can tell that this is such a huge day for them.”
And as I left MEND that day, I felt in my heart that many of the families would carry the memories they had made at “Christmas in Spring” in their hearts and minds for a long time. That’s how warm and light the team at Universal Studios Hollywood and MEND made it feel.