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Diplomats soccer player Sydnie Bligh helps serve lunch Thursday. Nearly 50 people from the group — players and family members — attended the luncheon to help spread Christmas cheer.
Diplomats soccer player Sydnie Bligh helps serve lunch Thursday. Nearly 50 people from the group — players and family members — attended the luncheon to help spread Christmas cheer. (Fred Zimmerman / S&S)
Diplomats soccer player Sydnie Bligh helps serve lunch Thursday. Nearly 50 people from the group — players and family members — attended the luncheon to help spread Christmas cheer.
Diplomats soccer player Sydnie Bligh helps serve lunch Thursday. Nearly 50 people from the group — players and family members — attended the luncheon to help spread Christmas cheer. (Fred Zimmerman / S&S)
Okinawan children perform an Eisa dance Thursday during the Christmas lunch at the Ginowan City Welfare Center.
Okinawan children perform an Eisa dance Thursday during the Christmas lunch at the Ginowan City Welfare Center. (Fred Zimmerman / S&S)
An Okinawan child seems less than thrilled about sitting on Santa’s lap Thursday during a Christmas lunch for the mentally handicapped at the Ginowan City Welfare Center. Families from the Okinawa Diplomats, a soccer team of SOFA-status children, attended the party to help the Okinawan children celebrate the holidays.
An Okinawan child seems less than thrilled about sitting on Santa’s lap Thursday during a Christmas lunch for the mentally handicapped at the Ginowan City Welfare Center. Families from the Okinawa Diplomats, a soccer team of SOFA-status children, attended the party to help the Okinawan children celebrate the holidays. (Fred Zimmerman / S&S)

GINOWAN CITY, Okinawa — The Okinawa Diplomats Youth Football Club members showed their Christmas spirit this season by spending some of their free time Thursday helping mentally handicapped children celebrate Christmas.

Approximately 50 Diplomats players and family members attended a Christmas lunch for the children at the Ginowan City Welfare Center.

Eisa dancers and drummers kicked off the celebration, followed by lunch, which Diplomats players helped serve. After the meal, several more Okinawan children and adults performed dances, then the Diplomats and their family members sang Christmas carols.

But the most popular attraction during the two-hour gathering was, of course, Santa Claus, who was the last to walk onto the stage. Two Santas actually were on hand; both walked throughout the crowd handing out candy and other treats to all children present.

One St. Nick then sat down for photos with anyone who wished.

This was the second year the soccer organization, for children with status of forces agreement status, gave a helping hand to the Association of Parents with Mentally Handicapped Children in Ginowan. Bobbie Lueking, who organized the event last year for the Diplomats, said the Okinawan group enjoyed it so much, the club was invited back.

The invitation was short notice — just a week before the party — so Lueking said she was extremely pleased so many Diplomats players and their families turned out.

“We really enjoy this,” she said. “For the team, to be able to visit with someone who is less fortunate is very good … they walk away with big hearts. They talk about this for days afterwards.”

Ichiko Shimabukuro, head of the Association of Parents with Mentally Handicapped Children in Ginowan, said the soccer organization’s presence “adds more fun and makes the party more lively and joyful.” “Since we all had a great time last year, we asked them to join us again. We are very grateful to them for sharing some time with us in this holiday season.”

Because the mentally handicapped children “do not have much opportunity to interact with people in the local community,” Shimabukuro said, “such an opportunity as this is very precious.”

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