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Volunteers make Christmas for Head Start kids

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

"Give me a five ... up high ... down low ... too slow," joked a Santa-suit-clad Charles W. Grant with preschool children at Riverdale Head Start on Monday.

For almost fifteen years, the executive director of Clayton County Community Services (CCCS) has dressed up as Santa and helped give Christmas presents to pre-kindergarten students at Head Start centers throughout the county.

On Monday, Grant and several volunteers gave nearly 150 gifts to 73 students at the Riverdale Head Start center, located at First Baptist Church of Riverdale on Church Street.

According to Maria Aguayo, a family services worker at Riverdale Head Start, most of the children come from lower-income and immigrant families, and the presents at the center may be the only ones they get for Christmas.

"It's important ... there are some children who are not going to get more than this," said Aguayo. "They don't really expect it."

While CCCS gets some funding for through government grants, a lot of its programs depend on donations and the help of volunteers. This year's toy giveaway wouldn't have been possible without the work of Diane Price.

Price, a grandparent and legal guardian of a student at Riverdale Head Start, worked with local CVS pharmacies, Dollar General stores, friends and family to collect the majority of the 150 presents given to the children at the center. She was able to do this, despite the fact that she has had more than 48 surgeries for colon and cervical cancer, and currently suffers from lupus and multiple sclerosis.

"Doing this makes it a little easier," said Price, whose granddaughter is in her first year at Head Start. "The doctor said I should be paralyzed, but the more I give, the more strength I have.

"Some of [the children] may not have anything," Price continued. "This should put a smile on some of their faces."

Grant, who turned 80 this year, said the children get "heavier and heavier" every year, but that he enjoys interacting with them, many of whom are meeting Santa for the first time.

"Some of them are afraid, but some of them are very receptive," said Grant. "They get used to it after a while."

Grant said he enjoyed the role of Santa, even though it was exhausting.

"It's kind of like Christmas for me, too," he said. "It brings out the kid in me."