The evergreen glow with twinkling lights with gifts wrapped and set underneath. Children race to see what good old Saint Nicholas has brought them on Christmas Day. This year there were no sad faces on Christmas morning due to the hard work of three generous souls and their volunteers.
Johnny Lee, the Santa at the house on the corner, worked diligently gathering gifts for Toys for Tots. His tree was filled with gifts of all sorts to be wrapped and sent to children who might not have anything under the tree. Lee volunteers for the position of Santa each year with the Loris Merchants Association, not for his own glory, but for the gifts he receives of hugs and smiles.
Lee found that the Carolina Inn has housed families who have lost their homes and everything they had to the flooding from the two hurricanes this year. He stepped up his game gathering toys and clothing for the children. “There were 15 children who were without much,” says Lee, “I heard about them and started gathering dolls, cars, trucks, sweatshirts and games for these families.”
With the help of the Loris police and fire, Santa got to ride in the fire truck with the lights and sirens going to announce his arrival. As they stepped out to greet the families excited to see them Lee asked LPD officer Rikki Ruggorio to say a prayer before the gifts were presented. Each wrapped gift was labeled with the age and gender of the children. Lee said, “I do it for the kids, only for the kids.”
One experience stood out in Lee’s mind as he watched a young lady walking past him several times. He would shout out “Ho-Ho-Ho Merry Christmas” in hopes she would come visit with him. The third time she walked past Lee convinced her to come speak with him. As she described her situation and said, “All I want to do is to go home”, Lee broke out his trusty phone and had a friend visit with the young lady.
A co-worker of his spoke with the lady and they compared notes realizing that she indeed was in need of their help. The family lives in Winston Salem, N.C., 3.5 hours away from Loris. Lee’s co-worker gassed up her car and took her home to her family driving to and from Winston in one day. The feeling and spirit of giving such a small token of their time was a blessing to Lee, his co-worker, the young lady and her family.
Lee said his wife, Debra, is the blessing behind him, she keeps him going as Santa each year. He said, “I feel that God places us at the right place at the right time to help others.” For the great gift he gives of himself, he was presented with the Jefferson Award by Victoria Graham at her shop Classic Collections. “I wasn’t expecting anything like this,” says Lee, “Everything I do is for the children and those who are less fortunate.” He humbly accepted the award, however, proudly displays it on his wall in his home. A reminder of the blessing he is to many.
Stella McDowell with God’s Gifts along with the many volunteers gathered and organized the gifts of games, sweatshirts, toboggans and other requested items.
God’s Gifts Facebook page was filled with the generosity of the community. Vicki Maston wrote, “The Good Shepherdness (Stella McDowell) did a good job getting all the Christmas dinners and gifts for the teens so everyone could have a Christmas.”
Scott Heppenstall had packages upon packages of Johnny Lightning and Hot Wheels cars and trucks for God’s Gifts to give to children. Many posts showed the generosity of people wanting to help McDowell and the volunteers to give to teens; the ones that McDowell says are the most forgotten at Christmastime.
After Christmas day many thank you notes were posted for all the good thoughts and gifts received.
The Facebook page has been filled with requests, offerings of gently used clothing and much more. The people of the community needed someone like McDowell to fulfill the desires of a teenager’s heart.
McDowell collects items throughout the year for families in need. She receives donations of furniture, household items and toys. The good thought of the day posted to her page is, “Always pray to have eyes that see the best in people, a heart that forgives the worst, a mind that forgets the bad and a soul that never loses faith in God.”
Ray Carmichael is a Santa who collects for Toys for Tots. He is not as well known as Lee or McDowell, but he works hard each year dressed as Santa Claus with a box labeled to drop off toys for underprivileged children. He said, “I want people to be able to come to me for help for their children.”
For Christmas 2019 drop by the Carmichael Chiropractic office to sign up for help for your family’s needs. These are only a few of the generous folks in Loris who help others especially during the holidays. There are many who help make Christmas for others less fortunate.
Some remain anonymous wanting no thank you for their thoughtfulness. As Edward Randolph said in the 1935 movie, Magnificent Obsession, “Money is alright since you have so much of it, but there are other kinds of help just as good but whatever help you give it must be in absolute secrecy that the world must never know and you must never let anybody repay you.” A gift to one is thoughtful, but a gift by anonymous is a blessing.