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What will Santa bring local children for Christmas this year? Bicycles, stuffed animals and other fun stuff for sure — but he’ll also leave practical gifts like a bed pillow, sheets, socks and underwear. Members of the Clover Jaycees should know. For more than 18 years, the civic group has been helping Clover-area families provide gifts for their children at the holidays through its Santa’s Sleigh project.
What will Santa bring local children for Christmas this year? Bicycles, stuffed animals and other fun stuff for sure — but he’ll also leave practical gifts like a bed pillow, sheets, socks and underwear.
Members of the Clover Jaycees should know. For more than 18 years, the civic group has been helping Clover-area families provide gifts for their children at the holidays through its Santa’s Sleigh project.
This year, said Karla McGinnas, one of the organizers, they expect to help a whopping 600 children. They also will provide holiday meal fixings for 50 to 100 elderly residents.
“We have been doing this over 18 years, and every year it grows and grows and we do more and more children,” said McGinnas, a teacher at Clover’s Larne Elementary School. “Especially the last five years.”
The project is one that’s dear to the hearts of Clover Jaycees because of the need they see — and because they see their help so deeply appreciated, she said. When the gifts are delivered to homes, she said, “parents cry on your shoulder. It means so much to me.”
McGinnas said parents fill out an application for the assistance through the Clover school district. Members of the community “adopt” children or families to help by buying them gifts.
McGinnas said the gifts include at least one complete clothing outfit per child — including shoes, socks and underwear — and at least one wish, although many gift donors provide much more.
The Jaycees buy gifts for children and families who aren’t adopted by the community. They also sometimes buy additional items so gifts are equal for each child within the same family.
Tamara Hartman, who is co-chairing the Santa’s Sleight project with McGinnas, doesn’t have children of her own. “This is my way of paying it forward,” she said. “It’s my passion.”
Hartman noted that the Jaycees members — who fund the project with proceeds from the annual Halloween haunted trail — invest a huge amount of hours in making the project happen.
“To so many children in our community, this is it,” Hartman said, referring to their Christmas gifts. “Without the Clover Jaycees, these children would not have a Christmas.”
The project is now the only large holiday toy distribution program in Clover, Hartman said. The Clover Area Assistance Center recently announced it had decided to discontinue its holiday toy project, choosing to focus instead on providing food and other emergency assistance.
Because of that, McGinnas said, the Jaycees were flooded with additional requests for help this year. “There are still kids on the waiting list,” she said. “We just can’t take any more.” The limit, she noted, is due to not having enough space to store all the gifts.
Lesa Jenkins, 50, said she continues to volunteer with the Santa’s Sleigh project even though she’s no longer eligible to be a Jaycees officer. “It disturbs me that there are 600 kids out there that need assistance,” Jenkins said. “But that’s what the economy is.”
McGinnas said many of the children include practical wishes on their lists. One child wanted a pillow, she said, while another wanted sheets and a comforter. Underwear, socks and diapers are also needs, she said.
Katie Lee, 18, vice president of management for the Jaycees, said delivering the unwrapped gifts to homes before Christmas is one of the greatest joys of doing the project.
Families beam when they open the door, she said. “They’re excited and they are just so thankful to everything we give them,” Lee said, “even if it’s just a box of cans for their dinner.”