Knights bring Christmas to residents with special needs
COLUMBIA—Every year, Christmas comes early for the residents of the Midlands Center thanks to dedicated volunteers from the Knights of Columbus.
Located in northeast Columbia, the center is a residence for adults of all ages who have developmental disabilities. It is run by the South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs.
For 30 years, the Knights of Columbus Council 724 have been throwing a Christmas party for the men and women at Midlands. The event started out small, with just a few people attending, but over the years it has grown into one of the most popular activities there, according to Ralph Giangrandi, who has organized the effort since 1996. He said the Knights start preparing for the party in September.
This year’s function was held on Dec. 10 and drew dozens of residents, staff and family members. As in previous years, the facility’s gym was transformed with holiday decorations, and the men and women received gifts, enjoyed a pizza party and took part in a dance contest. Each resident received a stuffed animal and a donated gift bag containing a T-shirt, hat, toiletries and other essentials. They also had a chance to meet Santa Claus, whose arrival was one of the highlights of the party, and were escorted to his chair by other volunteers who dressed up as elves.
Giangrandi said many volunteers have been helping with the party for years. Knight Sal Anderson donates the clothing each year, for instance, and Rose McManus, a member of the Ladies Auxiliary, provides duffel bags full of gifts.
The community also helps make the party happen. The pizzas are donated by Schiano’s, a popular Columbia restaurant, and the soft drinks come from a local distributor.
Members of the Knights, the Ladies Auxiliary and other volunteers shop for and donate the stuffed animals, and youth from St. Peter School and the Columbian Squires help put the packages together.
There is a lot of tradition involved in the event, too. When the Knight who originally played Santa Claus passed away, his wife brought his Santa suit to Giangrandi and he ended up playing Santa for more than a decade before passing the mantle to another Knight, Don Van Borsch.
The party is a chance for the Knights to give a special day to the residents, many of whom have been at Midlands for decades. Each year, Giangrandi said, he sees people who were there when he first started working on the event in 1996.
“Everyone who comes to the party is special, and we’re just providing them some Christmas joy,” he said. “The most important thing is just seeing the appreciation on their faces and the joy.”