To help make the holidays brighter for Santa Monica’s children in need, this year’s Winterlit celebration is holding a “Best Gift Ever” community gift drive.

New unwrapped gifts of any size or value are being accepted from Friday, November 24th, through Thursday, December 21st, at Winterlit Playhouse, in the 1300 block of the Third Street Promenade, and at Guest Services at Santa Monica Place, at Broadway and Fourth Street, Santa Monica.

The Santa Monica Police Activities League (PAL) will distribute the gifts to children who might otherwise go without presents this holiday season.

Wish lists from Police Activities League children will be displayed inside Santa Monica Place so those who want to give will know just what children are hoping to receive. Possibilities include toys, games, books and clothes

“We’re asking people to think back to what their ‘Best Gift Ever’ was and then give something similar that they think a child will enjoy and find special,” said Jean Huber, senior property manager at Santa Monica Place.

Santa Monica Place and the City of Santa Monica Bayside District Corporation are co-sponsoring the community gift drive.

Another element of the gift drive is inspiring some of the area’s business and community leaders to recall their own holiday memories and the presents they couldn’t wait to unwrap.

“We’re now gathering gifts and stories from community leaders about their ‘Best Gift Ever’ — tales of their special holiday memories from their childhood, which we’ll be sharing with the community at our Winterlit House collection site,” said Kathleen Rawson, executive director of Bayside District Corporation.

The Winterlit House — a children’s playhouse dressed up like a gingerbread house — is also available for auction during the gift drive, with proceeds from the sale benefiting the Police Activities League’s after-school programs for boys and girls ages six to 17.

“House hunters” can bid online for the eight-by-ten-foot playhouse at www.santamonica .com or www.downtownsm.com

The auction for Winterlit House opens Friday, November 24th, and ends Thursday, December 21st. The winning bidder will be contacted directly.

“The ‘Best Gift Ever’ community gift drive will make a real difference for 200 to 300 of our PAL kids this holiday season,” said Natalie Dewberry, Santa Monica Police officer assigned at the Police Activities League. “Most of us can’t imagine a holiday without a few gifts, and to picture children going without is truly heartbreaking.

“We know that the generous residents of Santa Monica will help make it a happy holiday for all of our area’s children.”

Winterlit is a holiday partnership of Santa Monica Place and Bayside District Corporation. Information, (310) 394-5451, or the Bayside Corporation, (310) 393-8355.

Here is a rundown of Winterlit 2006 Holiday Events:

n Fun Way to the Runway, Santa Monica’s Top Model Search, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, November 25th, Santa Monica Place in Macy’s Court.

Winterlit invites all aspiring young models ages seven to 18 to audition to be one of 20 finalists for the Winterlit Holiday Fashion Show to be held one week later.

Auditioning models should bring a photo and biography, and “dress to impress.” Models under 17 must bring a parent or legal guardian to sign consent forms.

Candidates will be viewed, photographed and selected by a panel of judges, who will announce the finalists at the end of the audition. Finalists will be prepared the following week for the Winterlit Fashion Show, to be held Saturday, December 2nd, on the Third Street Promenade.

Last year’s fashion show audition attracted more than 150 young modeling hopefuls.

n Winterlit Holiday Fashion Shows, 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday, December 2nd, first block of Third Street Promenade outside Santa Monica Place.

Twenty audition finalists will participate in the Winterlit Holiday Fashion Shows on the Third Street Promenade, showcasing fall and holiday clothing from Santa Monica Place, Downtown Santa Monica and Third Street Promenade merchants.

n Winterlit Fun Kids Weekend

— Breakfast with Santa, 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, December 9th; and Arts and Crafts, noon to 4 p.m., Santa Monica Place in the Community Focus Gallery.

Area families are invited to enjoy breakfast with Santa, and then an afternoon of holiday arts and crafts facilitated by The Children’s Museum of Los Angeles.

— 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, December 10th, all three blocks of Third Street Promenade.

Children can enjoy snow, a petting zoo, pony rides, interactive booths and musical entertainment.

n Pet Day With Santa, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, December 16th, Santa Monica Place in Center Court.

Shoppers bring their pets to Santa Monica Place for photos with Santa. Pets begin with a fun obstacle course to get out their “pet energy,” then groomed for their big moment with Santa.

n PAL Wrap Party for “Best Gift Ever” Gift Drive, 11 a.m. Friday, December 22nd, Santa Monica Place.

Volunteers will gift-wrap donated gifts in preparation for the Police Activities League distribution to area children who might go without gifts this holiday season.

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