Police, firefighters and other essential personnel were working in Pine Bluff on Christmas Eve, while most residents were at home with family and friends. However, some children can usually be found at Jefferson Regional Medical Center and the CASA Women's Shelter.

Police, firefighters and other essential personnel were working in Pine Bluff on Christmas Eve, while most residents were at home with family and friends. However, some children can usually be found at Jefferson Regional Medical Center and the CASA Women’s Shelter.

Representatives of the West Pine Bluff Rotary Club help Santa Claus find those children and bring gifts and cheer to them.

“It is great way to spend Christmas Eve when you look into the eyes of a child who thought Santa would miss him or her this year,” Randy Dillinger, president of the civic club, told Rotarians at their meeting Thursday. “It makes me extremely happy to bring them something special for Christmas.”

Dillinger has been “helping” Santa on Christmas Eve since the Rotary Club adopted the program six years ago. His day job calls for him to be the service manager for a local car dealership, but he plays the role of a helper to Santa one night a year.

Santa Claus was in Pine Bluff on Christmas Eve to visit some children who probably didn’t expect to see him at JRMC and the CASA shelter.

The fellow in the red outfit has been delivering presents to kids at the hospital and shelter with the help of members of the civic club. The children are greeted with a “Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas!”

Frequently there are no children in the JRMC pediatric unit when Santa arrives. The physicians make a diligent effort to discharge the young to spend the holiday in a more family-friendly environment. Santa checked Thursday and a five-year-old boy had been admitted for “observation.” The child was discharged before noon Friday, but Santa checked several times with the pediatric nurses on duty for the next two days.

He knew from experience that a child might be at the hospital when he made his rounds at 5:30 p.m. or might be at home. Santa carries a few extra presents in his red bag “just in case” there are some late admissions. Santa’s elves carried sacks of toys, coloring books, stuffed animals and games to the pediatric wing for patients who might arrive later with little notice.

This Christmas Eve was different for the bearers of gifts. They had stopped first at the hospital in the past, and then traveled to the shelter. The route was reversed Saturday, with the first stop at the shelter to hand out presents to more than a dozen boys and girls ranging in age from newborn to 16.

“We try to get age-specific toys,” Santa said. “We have a junior high school student, an elementary school teacher and a grandmother who go shopping early on Christmas Eve and they know what kids would like.”

Karen Palmer, CASA executive director, and shelter workers provide Santa with a list of children at the shelter and some of their favorites. The latter may range from stuffed animals to dolls to music.

“Thank you so much for thinking about us again this Christmas,” Palmer said Thursday. “We appreciate you very, very much.” Sometimes the number of children residing at the shelter with their mother is up, sometimes down, but more often than not the number keeps growing. Late arrivals can count on Santa and his helpers bringing them something.

Santa is usually accompanied by half a dozen Rotarians and a number of children who help each year. Several of the latter have accompanied Santa each year since the program was launched.

With the new shelter expected to open in 2012, Rotarians were told Thursday they can probably expect the number to increase next year.

The cost of the project has been underwritten anonymously by one Pine Bluff business and an “angel” in the community. The civic club picks up the tab when Santa runs over his budget, with members contributing Thursday to help pay for the presents.