By Joel Hall
With white in his beard and a twinkle in his eye, Charles W. Grant, put on his Santa suit for the 43rd year in a row.
The Rev. Grant, who is executive director of the Clayton County Community Services Authority (CSA), wore the suit on Friday with the same motivation he had over four decades ago -- to give Christmas to children who otherwise may not have one.
The CSA distributed Christmas presents to the 339 children in the Clayton County Head Start program, a preschool education initiative for underprivileged children. Children from three Head Start locations gathered at First Baptist Church of Riverdale to receive the gifts and interact with Santa Claus.
Grant, now in his early 80s, said for many young children, getting the gifts is their first time interacting with Santa. He said he loves to see their fears disappear and their eyes light up as they receive a toy they wanted.
"Some of them know who Santa is, and they come to him," said Grant. "If you can get rid of that fear and befriend them, then, the mission is accomplished."
Children received games, dolls, clothes, school supplies, as well as some high ticket items, such as tricycles and bicycles. All of the presents were procured from various community partners, by Diane Price, who heads Walking With Faith, a local, non-profit agency dedicated to helping the homeless and elderly.
Despite living with lupus, multiple sclerosis, heart problems, and having recently fought cancer into remission, Price has continued to travel metro Atlanta, acquiring gifts for the children of Head Start. She says regardless of difficult times, when people see her determination, they are willing to give.
"People have been giving despite the economy," said Price. "It keeps me going, especially when it's helping the kids. Some of the kids I see in here, it really touches my heart."
Gary Johnson, a senior manager at Head Start, said through the giveaway, every child in Head Start receives a present -- something that wouldn't happen without the program.
"We have a lot of low-income families, so the parents might not have the funds to get the things they are pursuing," said Johnson. "No matter where you come from, children should never be deprived of an enjoyable Christmas."