Santa, Mrs. Claus bring holiday cheer to Columbia neighborhood

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COLUMBIA - Families in the Bear Creek neighborhood got a special surprise Saturday when Santa and Mrs. Claus arrived for a holiday party.

Members of the Almeta Crayton Community Programs organization invited the first family of Christmas to Columbia to help deliver presents to children who might not find much under their Christmas tree otherwise. Volunteers cooked a Christmas meal, raffled off gaming systems and TVs, and gave kids a chance to take pictures with Santa. The group also stocked the center's food pantry so residents can pick up food baskets should they need the help during the winter months.

Santa, a.k.a. Anthony Crayton, serves as co-chair of the organization, inspired his late sister Almeta Crayton. He said his sister started Everybody Eats!, an annual event where volunteers serve donated food to those who might not be able to afford their own Thanksgiving meal, or those who want to spend their holiday with others.

"When she moved to Columbia, she realized there was a need," Crayton said. "And when she first came here, her son was small, and Boone Hospital did a lot for him. So she just wanted to pay back the community, and started helping people out almost 20 years ago."

Crayton and his longtime partner Olivia Walker drove from St. Louis Friday to decorate the Bear Creek community center to help decorate the space and play Mr. and Mrs. Claus. Walker said giving what little you have to others need not end with Almeta Crayton.

"When you think of her, don't think about the things she did for you," Walker said. "Think about that she was one person that made a difference, and you can do the same thing. Let's carry on what she started by helping each other."

Kentrell Minton is Almeta's godson and Anthony's co-chair for the organization. He lives in Columbia and said the group normally has people sign up for Christmas baskets, but they wanted to switch things up this year.

"Instead, we decided to adopt Bear Creek and throw this Christmas party," Minton said. "We bought gifts and presidents for the kids. And we got them food for their pantry to keep them stocked through the winter months."

Minton said he lived in the Bear Creek neighborhood when he first moved to Columbia nineteen years ago. He said he feels thankful for the chance to give back to the people living in his old stomping grounds.

Almeta Crayton Community Programs is now working with the neighborhood site manager to bring computers to the community center. They are also in the process of creating a tutoring program for the residents' children.

Mr. and Mrs. Claus also said they hope to return to Bear Creek next year.