Harlow Mahlen got an egg-cellent haul of plastic candy-filled Easter eggs Saturday at the Great Easter Eggstravaganza at the Depot in downtown Billings.
Harlow, who turns 3 on Easter, was one of the first children to arrive at the egg hunt, one of many activities offered at the Family Tree Center fundraiser.
She daintily bent down and picked up one pastel-colored egg after another until her basket was full. It was Harlow’s first Easter egg hunt of the day, but not her last.
“She’s having a birthday party today, so we’ll do another Easter egg hunt there,” said Carly Mahlen, Harlow’s mother.
In another room at the Eggstravaganza, one bunny greeted another at the petting zoo sponsored by the Laurel Roadrunners 4-H Club. Brooklyn Larsen, 22 months, wearing fuzzy bunny ears, lightly petted a white lion-head rabbit held by a volunteer.
Other children painted small masterpieces on rectangular boards or got their faces painted. Still others smeared chocolate cupcakes with pink, yellow, blue or green frosting, topped them with jelly beans or pretzels or licorice, then took a big bite.
This was the Eggstravaganza’s third year, but the first time it was put on by the Family Tree Center, said Executive Director Stacy Dreessen.
“We took it over from the Depot,” she said, standing near the entrance. “They approached us and asked us if we wanted to do it.”
The center’s mission is to prevent child abuse and neglect. With April Child Abuse Prevention Month, Family Tree put on a number of activities.
“We thought this would be another fun event for families to do together,” she said.
All over the area on Saturday, groups organized Easter egg hunts or other activities for youngsters and adults. With clear skies and temperatures in the 60s, it was an ideal day to be outside.
At Lewis and Clark Middle School, about 100 volunteers from Emmanuel Baptist Church offered a variety of activities to the large crowd on hand. Some workers in green shirts handed out free hot dogs, popcorn and cotton candy to a steady stream of customers. Children bounced in and slid down four inflatables or played a series of carnival games.
But when it was time, youngsters of specific ages, their parents watching, took turns at the large cordoned-off grassy rectangle covered with a rainbow of plastic Easter eggs. After the countdown, they hustled onto the grass, baskets in hand, and collected all the eggs they could.
Most eggs contained candy, but a few held pieces of paper the children could redeem for a prize. During the first hunt, 16-month-old Aden Hullmann, of Billings, took a few steps and picked up an egg his mother, Jessica Hullmann, pointed out to him.
The blond-haired, blue-eyed boy repeated the action a couple of more times. Then he got distracted watching the other children around him.
Asked if Aden practiced in advance, Hullmann said no.
“He’s my little cleaner,” she said, adding that at home, he likes to pick up toys and put them away.
Casen Stieg, 5, walked away from the next hunt, his bucket full.
“Mommy, I got a lot of eggs,” he told his mom, Jill Stieg.
“We attend Emmanuel Baptist and this is our third year we’ve been here,” Jill Stieg said. “It’s a fun event and well-organized. It’s lots of fun.”
That’s the idea, said Steve Lortz, executive pastor at the West End church.
“We have something for all ages, from infants all the way up to sixth grade,” Lortz said, adding this is the fourth year the church has sponsored the event. “We’ve got bouncy houses, free cotton candy, popcorn and free hot dogs, and we just want to serve our community.”
Planning for the event starts in January. Volunteers stuffed about 50,000 eggs for the four different hunts, Lortz said. Last year, the event drew an estimated 3,000 people.
Volunteer Jolene Sarsfield, a second-grade teacher who helped spread the eggs on the field, said it brings “joy to her heart,” seeing the delight of the youngsters as they run after the eggs.
“We’re here to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ with our community,” she said. “And to show them love through a free event for their family.”