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The hunt is on

Annual Kiwanis Easter event switches to candy eggs

The scene is like something out of the movie 'Braveheart.'

When the signal is given, hordes of children rush from behind caution tape into an area of Meinig Park covered in Easter eggs, stuffing the multicolored ovals into baskets of every size and shape.

A cordoned-off spot once littered with eggs is devoid of any unnatural material within minutes. And hundreds of local children are smiling, baskets filled with eggs, many of them holding oversize, stuffed rabbits.

That's how the annual Kiwanis Easter Egg Hunt works. The 24th annual event will take place rain or shine Saturday morning, April 7, in the park, behind Sandy City Hall.

Action in the area around the gazebo begins at 10 a.m. with 1- and 2-year-old children participating in the first hunt. After their approximately 20-minute quest for eggs, children ages 3 to 4 scour the park, followed by the 5-to-6 and 7-to-8 age groups.

The youngest children have a second opportunity to participate after the first four hunts, in case some people show up late and missed the first hunt or had problems while egg hunting.

'We make sure everyone has a good time,' said Terry Lenchitsky, a 27-year Kiwanian and the event's chairman, who has been involved with the egg hunt for two decades.

For the first time this year, the Kiwanis won't use hardboiled eggs for the hunt. Last year, volunteers boiled 3,600 eggs for the event - a stark contrast to the 'few dozen eggs' the group hid 23 years ago, Lenchitsky said.

Instead, most of the items that will fill children's baskets will be egg-shaped candies. Those eliminate many of the problems that come with using real chicken eggs.

'The thing is, it becomes egg salad out there,' said Shawna DeJohn, one of the event's coordinators. 'And, to be realistic, kids prefer candy to eggs.'

Lenchitsky added that putting hardboiled eggs - essentially, food - on the ground also presents health risks.

In addition to the several thousand candy eggs scattered throughout the roped-off hunt area, hunters will search for 160 golden plastic eggs, which can be redeemed for a large stuffed bunny donated by local businesses and individuals.

Each bunny has a business card stapled to its ear, and the Kiwanis Club encourages children to call those persons or businesses that donated the stuffed animal. 'I always get two or three phone calls,' Lenchitsky said.

Anyone interested in donating a bunny for the Easter egg hunt may do so by calling Darrell Dempster at 503-622-3570. Each stuffed animal is $10.

Older egg-hunters also look for special plastic eggs that contain free admission to Gresham Skate World and coupons for Smoky Hearth Pizza Company.

There is a strict no-parents policy during the hunt, meaning that moms and dads can watch the event from the sidelines but cannot physically interfere. Instead, impartial members of the Kiwanis and Sandy High School's Key Club help the children one-on-one, making sure everyone walks away with some eggs and a smile.

If the weather is good, Lenchitsky said, the hunt has attracted as many as 700 children.

When asked why the Kiwanis Club makes the egg hunt a priority year after year, Lenchitsky replied, 'It's a spiritual thing - it's the Easter spirit - and I think it's all something we enjoy. The sound of the kids and the excitement is just wonderful. It gives you a great feeling.'

The holiday spirit can grow beyond the Saturday event, Lenchitsky said, since each family will receive a lily bulb to plant and an Easter message, courtesy of Kiwanis member Eddie McRae, a noted hybridizer.