Lions Club continues a holiday tradition at the Pine Tree Center

Lions Club continues a holiday tradition at the Pine Tree Center

PTC students celebrate Christmas in January this year

By Jim Newell

Review Editor

Each Christmas season, the Lake Orion Lions Club planners arrange it so that Santa Claus, Buddy the Elf and the Lake Orion Lion mascot get to visit the Pine Tree Center to spread holiday cheer to the students.

Typically, the visit includes a holiday party with McDonald’s sandwiches, drinks, snacks, presents and activities in the gymnasium. But the COVID-19 pandemic had forced the Lions and Pine Tree Center staff to repeatedly postpone the yuletide celebration.

The Lions and Pine Tree Center Supervisor Jillian Knapp, however, remained undaunted and finally were able to bring a modified Christmas to the students on Jan. 28.

Instead of the more traditional celebration, this year, Santa and his helpers wheeled a cart laden with presents to each classroom, observing pandemic safety protocols and keep gathering sizes smaller.

Buddy the Elf called out students’ names and Santa made a special delivery to each one.

Lion Phil Steele (also known as Buddy the Elf) has taken part in the holiday visit for several years and said it is one of his most cherished events of the year.

“This is our community and just giving back to the community is what the Lions are about. And we feel that we can brighten people’s lives, brighten people’s day – and it brightens our day,” Steele said. “This is our favorite thing that we do. We come out and do Santa for these kids every year. I wish that it could have been different this year. But in the future, we’ll be back – year after year after year.”

Knapp said the Lions had been “awesome” about not giving up and continuing to look for a date that they could visit Pine Tree Center.

“Every year we’ve had a collaboration with the Lions Club with a holiday party, typically in December,” Knapp said. “However, with the COVID pandemic and safety precautions we had to cancel this year. But the Lions Club and Pine Tree Center didn’t want to disappoint the students, so we came up with a plan B. The Lions are delivering a gift to each student and each classroom is working on a Winter Wonderland project to help decorate the school.

“The kids could not be more excited. I received emails from the students all during Christmas break asking, ‘Are the Lions coming still? Are we doing something else instead?’ So, we are just so happy that we were able to find and alternative during the pandemic,” Knapp said.

Lion Jim Pettinato, who was Santa for the day, said the club delivered around 80 presents: gift cards, footballs, toy cars and trucks, makeup, superhero action figures, stuffed animals, music CDs, puzzles, Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! cards and Star Wars toys.

“I wish we could do more. These kids deserve it. And these teachers, I call them miracle workers,” Pettinato said.

Like many charitable organizations in 2020, the Lake Orion Lions Club has contended with reduced fundraising opportunities, including canceling the annual Jubilee and A Christmas for Everyone auction, two of the club’s signature events.

To learn more about the Lake Orion Lions Club, and to donate, visit or the Lake Orion Lions Club Facebook page.

Pine Tree Center houses the ASD, SEI and Phases programs for students with special needs. For more information on the Pine Tree Center, visit


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.