Nouha Hreish looks perfect in a Christmas hat — running around Wal-Mart at the crack of dawn, helping to organize the warm and loving chaos that is Clothe the Children.
For about 25 years, the Kiwanis Club of Huntington Beach has sponsored its Clothe the Children event, where local children in need are allowed to shop for themselves during the holiday season. As I described at this event last December, Hreish, who with her late husband, Albert, has run Noal Jewelry Designs for 30 years on Edinger Avenue, is a beautiful blur, just as she has been for more than 15 years, directing traffic and making sure more than 135 children have an extra special holiday.
Kiwanis, working with a number of resources including Project Self-Sufficiency and Colette's Children's Home, finds families in need and has the parents of these families bring their children to the store where they are paired up with a Kiwanis volunteer who helps them shop. Each child receives a $100 gift card and they get to spend about $90 on clothes, shoes and other necessities. Then they can buy a gift for themselves or a loved one with the remaining money."
Kiwanis member Mike Grumet told me that this year, along with finding needy children locally in Huntington Beach, they reached out to military families in need and had some soldiers bring their children as well.
Last year my daughter Claire volunteered and shopped with a child while I tagged along and observed the experience. This year, she did it again, and I also had the opportunity to shop, with two fourth graders, Nico Garcia and Christian Rodriguez. My volunteers, Mimi Pham, Terry Son and Richelle Son (all K Club members from Marina High School) and I perused the aisles to help outfit the two boys for the holidays.
Being boys, they were less interested in practical things like pants, shirts and shoes, and instead wanted to beeline to the toys area. Admittedly, I was sort of with them (do boys ever really change?) but thankfully the more practical three female teenagers kept us guys focused.
For an hour we found shirts for the boys, and shoes, and pants. They chose things they liked, we recommended things, we debated a few choices and had ourselves a genuinely enjoyable time. We left enough on each of the cards so that the boys could also buy a couple of things of the more playful variety.
Talking to them was interesting. Both fourth graders face many challenges each day that most kids do not, but you never would have known it. The kids were polite, funny and very well behaved, a testament to their parents obviously. And they seemed truly thankful for what was happening, just as all of the kids did.
Near the cash registers when we checked out, Hreish was as energetic as ever, posing for photos with the kids, leading them to meet Santa Claus, and beaming that lovely smile of hers. "This is my favorite day of the year," she told me. "Look at the smiles on these faces. How can this not be your favorite day of the year?"
Kudos, as always, to Kiwanis.
Holiday note: I will be at Barnes & Noble in Bella Terra from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday signing books, including my latest, "Baseball in Orange County." Hope to see you there.
CHRIS EPTING is the author of 19 books, including the new "Baseball in Orange County," from Arcadia Publishing. You can chat with him on Twitter @chrisepting or follow his column at http://www.facebook.com/hbindependent.