CAMBRIA -- Santa took a break from his toy-making duties at the North Pole on Wednesday morning to deliver presents to the 110 guests gathered for a brunch at Walker's Bluff.
The guests, clients of Centerstone, each got a present from the jolly man, provided by Cynde and Dave Bunch, owners of Walker's Bluff, while enjoying a brunch that included chicken and dumplings and chocolate pie.
"This is our tenth year doing this," said Cynde, CEO and Founder of Walker's Bluff.
Guests with special needs hold a special place in Cynde's heart, dating back to her earliest years as a Registered Nurse.
During the time that she worked as a nurse in a residential care facility dedicated to serving the special needs community, she discovered a deep respect and affection for the facility's residents and their families.
In fact, one of those first residents she came to love, Clarence, was in attendance at the brunch Wednesday morning.
"I think she's the best," said Clarence with a huge smile at his benefactor, before scraping the last bite of chocolate pie into his mouth.
"He's one of the reasons we do this," said Cynde.
Long after she retired her nursing scrubs, Cynde, along with her husband, Dave, began investing in the special needs community.
They first funded John A. Logan College's Betty Frances Mattingly Memorial Nursing Scholarship.
This scholarship provides for a qualifying student entering the Practical Nursing Program with the intention of becoming a registered nurse. Eligible students must plan to work in the field of long-term nursing care.
They began doing the Santa brunch about 10 years ago.
"She looks forward to this all year," said Dave.
Along with the brunch, Santa (aka Charlie Groves of Herrin) presented each guest with a gift bag containing a knitted hat, scarf, and gloves, compliments of Walker's Bluff.
Cynde and Dave also presented Centerstone employees with a check for $1,506, to be used to help meet the needs of the clients.
That money is raised throughout the year through the Walker's Bluff "Wine for a Cause" program.
"One dollar of every bottle of wine we sell goes back to help the community," said Cynde.
Five area organizations benefit from the program. Along with Centerstone, donations are also made to Brehm Preparatory School, St. Francis Animal Shelter, Disabled Veterans, and Night's Shield.
The Centerstone funds are a direct benefit to its clients, according to Jocelyn Popit.
"We are able to fill requests because of dollars like this that come in," she said.
Those requests include things like help with apartment fees, electric bills, and personal needs.
"We had a request last week for a weighted blanket," said Popit. "These things go above and beyond the in office and workshop things our clients need."
Centerstone serves over 16,000 in Illinois.
The brunch also gives the clients a chance to see friends from around the area, or in some cases, to spend more time with family.
That's the case for married couple Justin Harbison and Susan Rogers, who have been attending Centerstone since 1996.
"I get a chance to be with him," said Susan, looking adoringly at her husband.
Due to their disabilities and special needs, the couple lives in separate residences in Marion and only see one another on weekends.
"I get to see her and everybody," said Justin.
For Cynde and Dave, being able to give back and help others is gratifying.
"Some of these people have no family," said Cynde, pointing out that means no extras for things others take for granted.
"I get so excited about this event every year," she said. "There is simply nothing that compares to the joy and love we get to give and receive from our friends at Centerstone. We are honored to host them and, of course, Santa, at this very special brunch."