The IWV Optimist Club and local firefighters and police officers held their annual Children’s Christmas Party on Dec. 16.

This is the largest event put on by the Optimist Club each year. Children who were invited by different agencies to the party were provided a breakfast and opportunity to eat with men and women in uniform as well as experience a visit from a local clown, Bugs Derf, and see the true Christmas story on felt board. Kern County Fire Department and Ridgecrest Police Department displayed their vehicles and equipment for the kids to look at. The party ended with a visit to Santa in a Hot Wheels car escorted by a police cruiser, his elf and a Reindeer and receive a stocking full of toys and gifts, as well as receive a new blanket and a children’s book. Dental hygiene products were provided by Dr. Brian Danielson.

The annual Children’s Christmas Party started as a meeting held between the first Optimist President, Brian Voigt, and Captain Craig Thornburg of Station 74 (now captain of Station 73 in Inyokern) to address the need for children in less advantaged neighborhoods near the fire station to interact with local men and women in uniform in a positive environment, one of the first goals set by the board of the IWV Optimist Club. Thornburg and the board of the Optimist Club agreed to hold a Christmas party for the kids at Station 74 that would be managed by the Optimist Club and the Eastern Kern Firefighters would volunteer.

On various years all three county stations in the Indian Wells Valley, Ridgecrest Engine Company No. 77 and No. 74, and Inyokern Engine Company No. 73 have participated. China Lake Fire Engine Company No. 1 also participated on the first year. In the beginning, having both stations from Ridgecrest put a strain on the local fire stations because of calls for assistance consistently forcing one of the trucks to leave. These days, one stations covers the calls for a few hours while the other station comes to the party. They trade off from year to year.

“We did have all three stations at the party one year, the Ridgecrest engine companies and a water pumper from Inyokern,” Voigt said. “They had to clear the deck and take off due to a structure fire right in the middle of the event. Actually, the kids thought that was pretty cool. The first engine company left to take the call. A few minutes later someone was yelling ‘Structure fire!’ over the radio speaker, which was turned up so the firefighters could monitor the radio during the event.

“The firefighters from the second engine company frantically put on their turnouts, pushing kids back and taking off with lights and siren. It happened near the end of the party. I guess for a kid, the end of the party doesn’t get more exciting than that.”

That goal of building friendships between the officers and children was never more evident than when the Lady Officers of RPD showed up during the event last Saturday. A handful of girls ran up to the female officers with much excitement when they arrived.

“We had another year were a child pulled a toothbrush from his stocking, ran up to his mother and said, ‘I no longer have to share a toothbrush,’ ” Voigt said. “It’s moments like those which keep us motivated while helping local children.”

The second year, Rocky and Sandra Groves of Casey’s Steak and BBQ agreed to host the party and pay for the breakfast, providing the children and firefighters a warm place to meet and a meal. Danielson also came onboard that year, providing a toothbrush and toothpaste for the children’s stockings. In 2015, Ridgecrest Police Department became an official partner of the Children’s Christmas Party providing officers to eat with the children. This year the Ridge Runners 4-H club also participated, providing volunteer youth to help with the event. In past years, the explorers post from KCFD and RPD have participated.

In 2018, the following local businesses provided toys or gifts for each stocking including Warren’s Automotive, Altaone, Navy Federal, Walmart, S&M Collectables, Pizza Factory, and Dr. Brian Danielson, as well as some of the Optimist members.

The IWV Optimist Club meets every third Monday of the month at Casey’s Steak and BBQ at 6:30 p.m. in the banquet room, with the exception of December during which it meets on the second Monday of the month. The Club also has a youth scholarship fund for which a child can request monetary help for church or school trips and club or sports equipment. It also provides requested donations for specific projects that other non-profits are doing if they are youth related projects.

For further information about the IWV Optimist Club call 760-608-4592.