‘Secret Santa’ will help more than 100 families

Published 2:54 pm Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Thanks to the generosity of Decatur County businesses, families and individuals, more than 300 children in more than 100 local families will get to have new toys under the Christmas tree this holiday season.

Hundreds of toys have already been collected through the local “Secret Santa” program, which is a partnership between Live 101.9 FM radio in Bainbridge, Decatur Community Cares and the Decatur County Family Connection.

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Kevin Dowdy, the owner of Live 101.9 FM, said that the radio station distributed bins to local participating businesses on Nov. 12. Since that time, those bins have been filled up with new toys, which were purchased by business employees as well as regular citizens.

Secret Santa volunteers have periodically visited the businesses to collect toys from the bins, and those toys were then stored at a local warehouse. Volunteers have spent the past several days sorting out the toys and distributing them to the families in need.

Allison Harrell, chairman of the board of directors for Family Connection, said that all of the toys are going to local families. She said that school staff have recommended families to the Secret Santa organizers, so that they know the toys will be going to local children that have genuine needs.

“Because our program is based on referrals from the schools, we might not have the volume of toys that other drives see,” she said. “But we also know that we can really focus on children who are truly in need. The teachers and administrators at the schools see these kids every day, and they know the ones that are going through tough times.”

Harrell said that some families can come to the warehouse to pick up the toys, but many recipients do not have their own transportation. If that is the case, Harrell or other volunteers will take the toys to those families’ homes.

“I just tell the kids that Santa can’t fit all of the toys in his sleigh, and I’m just one of his helpers,” Harrell said, with a smile.

Dowdy said that Live 101.9 has done the Secret Santa program for eight years, but this is the first time the radio station is partnering with Family Connection. Harrell explained that Family Connection previously did its own drive for four years, and then Dowdy’s program would help “fill in the gaps” if there were still needs to be met.

However, this year the decision was made to combine efforts, while keeping the familiar “Secret Santa” name.

“It’s just another example of how Decatur County people come together to accomplish great things,” said Family Connection Coordinator Ronnie Burke.

In addition to toys, other items have been collected, including clothing, blankets and some household items. Also, each family receives either a storybook of Bible tales, or a similar religious book.

Some bins will continue to remain at local businesses through Friday, so citizens can still make last-minute donations. The bins are located at Stone’s Home Center of Bainbridge, Tuten Chiropractic Care, Golden Corral, The Animal House, Care Chiropractic, Inland Total Petroleum, Bee Trailers, Bank of Ozarks, First Port City Bank and Turner Broadband.

Harrell said that the drive would not have been a success without Live 101.9 FM and the participating businesses.

“We appreciate the radio station for really helping to drum up interest and get the word out, and also provide space for the toys and volunteers to help,” she said. “This was truly a team effort and we couldn’t have done it without them.”

Harrell also specifically thanked the assistance of Decatur Community Cares, especially the help from Sherry Weaver and Monica Oliver.