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Through the eyes of a lion

Jumbe the Lion is attacked by a pack of kids wanting to give him hugs. Jumbe is the mascot of the North Liberty Optimists, who co-sponsored the Breakfast with Santa event at the community center Dec. 6.

By Ray Haas
Special to the North
Liberty Leader
NORTH LIBERTY– Each year, children in North Liberty eagerly look forward to the first Saturday of December and their opportunity to visit with Santa. They come to the North Liberty Recreation Center by the hundreds to talk to him and to eat a hearty breakfast of pancakes, eggs, sausage, juice, milk and coffee served by the North Liberty Lions Club.
On Saturday, Dec. 6, the community held to this tradition. Santa was definitely on everyone’s mind. As time passed, a line formed to see him. Parents patiently held toddlers while older children anxiously stood by their sides. They all awaited their moment with Santa; a time for the children to share their Christmas wish lists and pose for pictures with the jolly, bearded one.
Santa, well-prepared as always, anticipated a big crowd. He brought with him a few elves and invited a special guest to interact with his visitors. Jumbe, a friendly and gentle lion, was given free rein to roam throughout the facility. Jumbe made the most of his opportunity. He was thrilled by the gleeful look in the eyes of the children. Jumbe sat with several families as they ate breakfast. He brought smiles to the faces of vendors when he visited the craft show where they displayed and sold their wares. He even occasionally stepped outside to greet visitors at the front door, but spent most of his time next to the line of people waiting to visit Santa.
Excitement and energy abounded as he offered high fives to children. High fives led to requests for hugs. Hugs led to requests from parents to take pictures of their children being held by Jumbe. Eventually, children were crawling with him on the floor and even engaged in friendly wrestling with their new-found lion friend, who suffered a slight injury when his tail was pulled off.
After the event I had an opportunity to speak with Jumbe. He said it was heart-warming to see so many smiles and to get so many hugs and high-fives from children. He spoke of the special moments when children said, “I love you Mr. Lion.” He was especially touched by one little girl who had spent lots of time with him. When it came time for her to leave, with tears in her eyes, she asked for a final hug. At that point, Jumbe became contemplative as he was reminded of the love that is the basis for the Christmas season.
As he departed from the gym, he asked me to assure everyone that in spite of the injury to his tail he looks forward to coming back with Santa and all of the children next year. He also requested that I share a message with the people of North Liberty.
“The people here today are healthy and they had a very good time visiting with Santa. But not all people are this fortunate. I want the people of North Liberty to know the Lions Club’s mission: Lions Serve, We Help People in Need. And, I want you to invite them to join the club.”
The North Liberty Lions Club is a group of citizens committed to serving people who are sight- or hearing-impaired, or who deal with the effects of diabetes. The club provides scholarships for children to attend Camp Courageous or Camp Hertko Hollow. Club members collect used eyeglasses and prepare them for use by sight-impaired people. They work closely with the Iowa Lions Eye Bank to transport eye tissue for use with sight-impaired people and they conduct free sight screenings with the Iowa KidSight program. This program is dedicated to enhancing the early detection and treatment of vision impairments in Iowa’s young children (target population six through 48 months of age) and providing public education about the risk of undetected vision loss.
Members of the North Liberty Lions Club also like to have fun. They participate in community service events such as Fun Days and the annual North Liberty parade, and they assist with the youth triathlon.
For more information about the reward and enjoyment of being a club member visit the website at http://iowalions.org/northliberty/.