CLOVER — Tamara Hartman is distressed at the thought of Clover and Lake Wylie children and their families going without at Christmas.
So she and other volunteers with the Clover Jaycees made sure that didn’t happen this Christmas for more than 600 children and about 75 senior citizens.
On Saturday, Hartman and many other volunteers with the Jaycees’ annual Santa’s Sleigh project headed out to deliver clothing, toys and boxes of food to a record number of recipients.
Hartman said the Jaycees’ project started about 25 years ago has continued to grow every year.
“I still think it’s the economy,” she said. “This is a mill town, and it’s really been hit hard. People are struggling.”
Katie Lee, a 19-year-old Jaycees volunteer, has been involved with the project and others since she was 13.
“It’s really rewarding,” she said.
Lee and other volunteers, including John Shirley and Lesa Jenkins, sorted through boxes of donations last week at the Clover Jaycees Hut to make sure the allocation of gifts for each child were fair.
“It helps kids that need it,” Shirley said. “And it’s fun, too.”
A group of Clover High School students, including Sinclair Bilton, Ethan McDaniel and Coby Hamblen, helped by boxing canned food to be distributed.
“It’s a lot of fun, once you get the hang of it,” Coby said.
The Jaycees spend most of the year raising money for the project, which ramps up in October as organizers begin to qualify and sign up recipients and seek contributors to “adopt” the children.
The Jaycees shop for and provide gifts to any children who are not adopted, Hartman said. This year, she said, more than 85 percent of the children were adopted, a figure that has in the past been around 60 percent.
“So many of the families that we have helped in the past are paying it forward,” she said. “They want to be able to help, because we’ve helped them.”
Families that sign up children through the program are asked to provide documentation to show that they qualify for the assistance, Hartman said. She said families receiving help from the Clover Area Assistance Center would also be eligible for help from Santa’s Sleigh.
Community members who agree to “adopt” the children are asked to provide an outfit, including socks, underwear, a shirt, pants and a coat, and two or three of each child’s gift “wishes,” which parents provide when they sign up for the program. Each family that has children who are recipients also receives a box of food.
The project also provides food, slippers and robes or housecoats to about 75 elderly and shut-in residents, Hartman said. She said the Clover Senior Center helps identify seniors who need assistance, she said.
Bicycles, books and other learning supplies and sporting items such as basketballs and footballs are popular gifts. But Hartman said the program has also received requests for other kinds of gifts.
“This year, we had so many children asking for sheets and blankets, because they are cold,” Hartman said. “That was a huge wish.”
The program is assisting three families with critically ill children this year, with a Christmas tree, food, gift cards and other necessities.
Hartman, who has been in charge of the program for about five years, said she enjoys doing it in part because she doesn’t have children.
“This is my way,” she said. “All these kids become mine. I had a normal childhood, and Christmas was a big deal in my family. I can’t imagine all these children not having a good Christmas.”