Barb Thomas loved her first big Christmas party at Easterseals Arc.
She’s been on the job for less than two years at Pyromation, the Fort Wayne company that has paid for the Christmas party at Projects Drive Group every year since 1998 and always sends a group of volunteers to help run the party. “I’ll volunteer every year if they let me. Bringing joy to them,” she said, looking across a crowd of more than 100 staff members and consumers, “brings joy to me!”
Lisa Calloway, who’s worked at Pyromation for 30 years, is mascot-in-chief. She was the most conspicuous of the nine volunteers from Pyromation at the party. This year, she came as Olaf, from the movie “Frozen.” Last year, she was the Grinch. Before that, Mrs. Claus. And so on, for years and years.
“This has always been one of our big things we like to do during the year,” she said, as she watched the cleanup underway in the lunch room in the Projects Drive Group building at Easterseals Arc. Pyromation, which employs about 200 people at its facility near Lima Road and Interstate 69, stages two complete parties, an hour apart, every December. For years, Easterseals Arc consumers have done contract work to help with production at Pyromation.
This year, the celebration was Dec. 12, with meals at 11 a.m. and noon. The company pays all the costs for the party, including 250 box lunches—a choice of turkey, ham or beef on croissant, with a fruit cup and potato salad, plus cupcakes for dessert. The company provides a gift for everyone at the parties—this year, the gift was an insulated drink mug. It also provides a cart full of door prizes during each of the two meals, with blankets, socks, picture frames, books and lighted ornaments among the items distributed in a series of drawings.
Easterseals Arc staff member Linda Hege, who’s worked at the agency for 38 years, handles most of the planning on Easterseals Arc’s end. That includes ordering everything: the box lunches, soft drinks, gifts and door prizes. She also contributes an important piece of hands-on labor: She makes dozens of sugar-free cupcakes for Easterseals Arc participants who have diabetes and need to manage their sugar consumption.
“The hardest thing is getting the numbers right,” she said. Pyromation generously errs on the side of abundance, and Hege said there’s always plenty of food.
Hege also brings entertainment to the mix. Her husband, Kevin Hege, plays and sings holiday music during the parties.
Naturally, other Easterseals Arc staff members pitch in. They ice down soft drinks before the party, set up tables, wrap gifts, clean up afterward, shoot portraits of partygoers with Santa (or Olaf) and rearrange seating on the fly as needed.
That leaves the team from Pyromation to serve meals, drinks and cupcakes and to clean tables and chairs between the two meals. During that cleanup, no volunteer is busier than Pete Wilson, who is president of the company his parents founded in 1962. He wipes off tables and straightens decorations as quickly as any of his employees.
At Pyromation, which makes thermostats and other temperature-control sensors, there are always more volunteers wanting to staff the party than necessary. “It’s an opt-in,” Wilson said. “We don’t even imply that it’s a company-sponsored event.”
Wilson said supporting the Easterseals Arc party is a natural extension of the work his parents did in the community. They believed that the best help you could give was deeply personal work you did with your own hands. His mother was a special needs teacher.
He takes his service to the people at Easterseals Arc seriously, but he doesn’t act serious. Wilson arrives wearing a goofy cap fit for an elf, and he laughs often as he dashes around the lunchroom.
“We have a lot of fun,” he said.