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New London - It was hard to tell who was having more fun at the Kiwanis Christmas party Thursday afternoon at the Officers Club at the Coast Guard Academy - 11-year-old Hailey hugging a 4-foot tall teddy bear, or 4-year-old Malachi gently peeling back the wrapping paper on his gift.
"This is the best present ever," Hailey said, as she gave her new stuffed animal a bear hug. "He's so cute and soft and cozy."
"It's what I always wanted," said Malachi, eyes wide as he examined a package of Beyblades Storm Pegasus tops, and found a Pegasus emblem on a new yellow-and-blue striped shirt.
During the afternoon party, hosted by the New London Kiwanis Club, 17 children selected by the Salvation Army received practical gifts - like pants and shirts - and fun gifts, like a Spiderman car, a Barbie doll or an NBA basketball. Each member of the New London Kiwanis selected a child to buy presents for.
Kiwanians Ted Nelson and Jim Sylvester were entertaining themselves trying to get a Cyber Dino to walk across the tabletop.
"'Some assembly required.' The three worst words in the dictionary," said Sylvester, using a butter knife to pry open the back of the remote-control toy to insert batteries, as Nelson read from the instructions, telling him to press the red button.
"I am pressing it," Sylvester responded.
It took 13-year-old Darius to get the blue mechanical dinosaur to work.
"It took a little time, you have to hold the button down," explained the soft-spoken Darius, who handed the remote control over to his younger brother, 5-year-old Marcus.
"He got it to work?" asked Sylvester, jumping up from his seat to see the toy haltingly walk across the carpet.
"You had it on the table. It was supposed to be on the floor," chided Nelson.
The Kiwanis Club members adopt a group of children and host a luncheon every year. For the past nine years, the luncheon has been held at the Coast Guard Academy. But the party has been going on for years before that, according to members.
"It's so nice these people took time from their busy day to sit here with the children and buy them gifts," said Capt. Melissa Borrero, head of the New London Salvation Army. "The children were very excited about coming."
Thursday's luncheon included a visit from Santa Claus and his wife, and a signed copy of "The Cookie Thief" by Francis Gilbert, who was there to read her book to the children.
Kiwanis President Lynn Farrell said the club looks forward to the event every year.
"Why do we do this? Because for that two hours, those kids have innocence back in their lives," Farrell said.
"It's nice to know I can give to kids who don't have a lot," added Sylvester.