Donated toys, food go to York County families for a happy holiday

rsouthmayd@heraldonline.comDecember 20, 2013 

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It’s going to be a happy holiday in the homes of more than 1,000 families across York County, thanks to the organizations involved in the Sleigh Bell Network.

Another year and busy holiday season comes to a merry close this week, as toys and food donated by people across the community are given to the families who need it most.

The Sleigh Bell Network is the annual holiday program coordinated by the United Way of York County. It brings together the efforts of several community organizations – The Herald’s Empty Stocking Fund, Toys for Happiness, Toys for Tots, the Salvation Army and Second Harvest Food Bank – to provide families in need with toys and food for the holidays.

Friday’s and today’s “Distribution Days” are the culmination of a lot of hard work, said Tom Anderson, who managed the “warehouse” full of donated toys.

“It’s such a sense of giving and happiness when (the volunteers) get to see the fruits of their labor,” he said.

Those fruits are the smiles on the faces of people like Michelle Purdie, who lost her house in a fire a few months ago and wasn’t going to be able to afford any sort of Christmas for her children or grandchildren.

“We’re going to be able to have a blessed moment with our family,” said Purdie. That moment will include a new grandbaby, born just a few days ago.

Volunteers gave Purdie plenty of toys that her children requested, like a guitar and a bike, one of the most-requested and most-purchased items the Sleigh Bell Network handles each year, said coordinator Debbie Hayworth.

Toy donations overall this year were slower than in years past, Hayworth said, probably because of the shorter holiday shopping season.

Volunteer Tyler Luchey said no matter how many toys are donated, volunteering with the Sleigh Bell Network is always a humbling experience.

“There’s nothing like giving a part of yourself,” said Luchey, a graduate of Northwestern High School who lives and works in Charlotte, but always comes back to Rock Hill to help out with the Sleigh Bell Network.

When he helps people bring toys to their cars, he gets a few moments to hear their stories, to relate to them and, of course, to see the look on a child’s face as packages are loaded into the car.

“Those are the things that make it worth it,” he said.

At this year’s distribution, Rock Hill mothers Natasha Johnson and Nichole Scott found themselves doubly blessed. The Sleigh Bell Network had given each of their daughters a bike, but Scott’s daughter is very tall and got a medium-sized bike, while Johnson’s daughter is shorter and got a large bike. So, they swapped and exchanged stories of how blessed they felt.

“I don’t have much, but if I can make a baby’s day, I’m going to do it,” said Johnson. “It’s not about toys, it’s about giving to others.”

Scott said she felt blessed just to be there and to have something to make the holiday special for her family.

“Everybody should get to have a merry Christmas,” she said.

Rachel Southmayd •  803-329-4072

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