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Ben and Debbie Howe pose with their daughters Alexandria, 6, and Amelia, 1, for the family picture with Santa Claus, one of the highlights of the YMCA's Breakfast with Santa. (DAMIEN FISHER PHOTO)

Families line up for 'Breakfast with Santa' at Manchester YMCA

MANCHESTER - As a major part of the Christmas season for Manchester families, the YMCA's Breakfast with Santa had people lined up down Mechanic Street waiting for their chance to come in and start their holiday cheer.

"It's become the tradition; for a lot of families, this is when Christmas starts," said Cindy Laford, the branch director for the YMCA.

The event includes games and crafts for children, live music, and photos with Santa Claus. Of course, there's also the full breakfast for all the attendees. The event is done free of charge every year, said Hal Jordan, the YMCA CEO, and it brings out people from all walks of life.

"You see the full spectrum of Manchester families," he said.

The event brought out more than 1,600 people last year, Laford said, with more expected this year. The doors opened at 10 a.m., but families were lined up down the street at 9:15 a.m. she said.

The YMCA started hosting the event eight years ago, when Y leaders decided to find a way to give back to the community. Laford said giving families time to be together during the typical Christmas rush is a perfect way to celebrate the season.

"For a lot of families, spending time with their children at the holidays can be difficult to manage," she said,

The day is full of new traditions, she said, like the reindeer food children get. Costumed reindeers hand out bags of oatmeal colored with food coloring to children, with instructions to spread it on their lawns to feed Santa's team on Christmas Eve.

"Children say they know Santa will come because they now have the reindeer food," Laford said.

Some of the traditions are new to families coming for the first time. Ben and Debbie Howe brought their daughters Alexandria, 6, and Amelia, 1, to the event for the first time.

"We've heard great things," Debbie said.

The family got their picture taken with Santa and planned to spend time in the craft room.

"We really like coming to the Y," Ben said.

Diane and Dan Martineau brought their children, Colby, 9, and Careena, 7, for their fourth year at the breakfast.

"We get to see Santa and we get in the spirit," Diane said.

Jen Rivard watched as her daughter, Casey, 4, made a Christmas tree at one of the many craft tables set up in the gymnasium.

"We come every year, we like the pictures with Santa," she said.

Close to 100 volunteers helped put the breakfast together, Laford said, from Y leaders to high school students.


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