Face to face, United Way striving to help during holidays

Published 5:42 pm Tuesday, December 21, 2021

What 5-year old can resist face paint, especially when he can turn the tables on the face painter?

That’s exactly what Ayden Thomas did to Brittany Callahan as she attempted to paint a Spiderman mask onto him. And while his face painting was more abstract, it was in keeping with the fun and festive nature of the evening during the United Way of South Hampton Roads’ Holiday Extravaganza Dec. 14 at the Suffolk Family YMCA.

The extravaganza helped more than 120 Hampton Roads families — a second extravaganza was held two nights later in Virginia Beach — including some in Suffolk, by providing gifts and meal kits to children and their families as they got to enjoy an evening of music, arts and crafts, cookie decorating and family photos.

“Being able to have an event like this is really bringing our mission to life, helping people, connecting people, connecting volunteers to people and families in need,” said United Way of South Hampton Roads President Michelle Anderson. “It just brings us joy to bring people together like this.”

Callahan, a United Way fundraiser who was volunteering her time as a face painter, took having her own face painted in stride, alternating between painting Ayden’s face and having him paint her face. Others from Enterprise Rent-a-Car, including group rental manager Caley King, were also on hand to entertain the children and their families.

“I love seeing the joy on their faces, of them smiling, dancing, making cookies and crafts and having all kinds of treats,” King said. “It was really rewarding to see that.”

The music came by way of 97.3 The Eagle and the arts and crafts thanks to the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Kim Herman, with others from the United Way.

And for as much fun as Ayden and his older brothers Jordan, 7, and Mason, 9, had, it was even more fun when they were each surprised with bicycles to take home.

Seeing their smiles made the event well worth it for Anderson, who hopes this first-year event becomes a tradition.

Even with masks on, it was hard to hide the joy of Ashley and Aaron Thomas, who took time to have a dance.

“With children and families being so stressed, just having that mental health break to have a night where you get to go out and get your picture taken and do cookies and do an art project, … many of these parents can’t afford to do that for their child,” Anderson said. “So just watching the parents dance and the children dance, it just brings such joy to let people be happy and celebrate the moment. That’s what it’s about for us.”