BOC toy drive benefits nearly 700 youths

Hundreds of local children, who come from underprivileged backgrounds, will get at least one toy under the Christmas tree this Christmas, as a result of the Clayton County Board of Commissioners' recent toy drive, a county spokesperson said on Monday.

Jamie Carlington, the county's spokesperson, said 698 Clayton County children received toys on Saturday, at the Riverdale Center for the Arts, Business & Leisure Services. Families whose children received toys had to pre-register, showing that they were in financial need, county officials had announced at Thanksgiving, when the toy drive began.

Many of the toys, Carlington said, were donated county residents, county employees and local businesses. She added the county received an additional $1,125 in financial donations, including $75 in grocery store gift cards. The donated funds were used to buy additional toys and refreshments for the event.

"It was really great," Carlington said. "We had families starting to line up at the door, at 7 a.m., and the event didn't actually begin until 9 a.m. We had just enough toys, that every child that was there, got a toy."

This year's toy drive could end up being the start of a new tradition for the county's government, if the man who runs the county has his way. County Commission Chairman, Eldrin Bell, said the toy drive ended up being so successful that he wants to do it again next year, and every year after that, while he remains in office. He added that he wants a "bigger, and better" toy drive event next year.

"As long as I'm in office, I plan on continuing to do this," Bell said. "I believe that with our economy struggling as much as it is, there will still be a great need to do this next year. I just cannot stand to see a child, on Christmas Day, without a toy in his or her hands."

Carlington said families who attended the event were greeted Bell, County Commission Vice-Chairman Wole Ralph; Clayton County Sheriff Kem Kimbrough, and Riverdale Mayor Evelyn Wynn-Dixon. There were also visits the Clayton County Library System's "Mother Goose," and the big honcho in the red and white suit, himself — "Santa Claus" — during the event.

"Mother Goose" read holiday stories to children, while their parents picked up toys, and children were allowed to get in a little visit with the Santa-meister, according to Carlington. She added that volunteers from managed health care company, Amerigroup's Family First program, provided healthy snacks to children, while representatives of fitness company, H.E.A.T. Fitness, taught some exercises to the youths.

Carlington also said students from Clayton State University, as well as Clayton County natives who attend various other colleges, and students from the Clayton County Public Schools system participated in the event as volunteers.

"Our supporters, including our volunteers, and all the people who made financial and toy donations, are the ones who made this a success," Carlington said.

Bell added, "I would call this incredibly successful."

Carlington also said the donated money was used to buy toys at stores in Riverdale, so the money would end up helping local businesses, rather than going out of the county. "We wanted to make sure the money stayed in the county," she said.

Bell added that he was so pleased with the turnout, that he also wants to continue raising money this year for families participating in needs-based assistance programs.

"I will continue to raise money, to make sure our children, through DFCS [Clayton County Department of Family and Children Services], and [the county's] Grandparents Raising Grandchildren [program], have a successful Christmas," Bell said.