Photo by Kathy Jefcoats Ariya Meadows ,6, is excited to take home a pile of gifts from Wednesday’s Christmas party.
While thousands of Clayton County kids will ask Santa to bring them lots of toys and gadgets, others are hoping for underwear, socks and maybe a coat.
About 25 of those youngsters were treated Wednesday to a Christmas party at Morrow Elementary School, complete with hot dogs and chips, a reindeer dance and a visit from St. Nick himself. Seeing Christmas through the eyes of a needy child puts the holiday season in perspective, said Interim Police Chief Greg Tatroe.
"This year, there were a lot of kids asking for clothing items," he said. "To see the face of a child, who opens a pack of socks and knows he won't have to share them with other kids in the house, it's heartwarming."
One child said she needed a coat "very badly." Another child asked for a toothbrush and toothpaste.
For about 20 years, the City of Morrow has hosted a Christmas party for needy kids, said Lt. Harry White. School officials handpicked the kids to benefit from the annual party. Code Enforcement Officer Marti Tracy, Police Officer Joshua Stroud and volunteer Karen Maddox-Jones took the wish lists to Wal-Mart and went shopping.
"We have to let the women do the shopping, because if only the men go, we'd just get all toys," said Tatroe. "The women put a 'mom' spin on it."
The Morrow Wal-Mart allows the shoppers to use an employee discount, so their money goes farther. Also, the store donated T-shirts and underwear for all the children, so more money could be used for toys, said Stroud.
"The Morrow Wal-Mart has been a wonderful partner in this," said Tatroe. "Costco and Sam's Club provided the food, which included hot dogs, chips and cookies."
Each child also got a Colgate hygiene set and toiletry items. "It is important for a child to be able to come to school clean and smelling good," said Stroud. "It helps make them feel good about themselves."
The school cafeteria was decked out Wednesday in holiday style. Balloons bobbed above the tables that were piled high with brightly wrapped gifts. The stage was ready for the arrival of Santa, who showed up after Maddox-Jones led the kids in an enthusiastic reindeer dance.
"I did invent the reindeer dance," said Maddox-Jones. "I think it is a wonderful thing for them to have the antlers on, to be the center of attention. I think it really makes a difference in a child's life. These are kids who don't 'get,' you know? But tonight, they were the feature of the show. It's important for kids to feel special."
Eboney Meadows said she and her five children did feel special. "I can't really explain it," she said. "When I saw the letter from the school that they were going to be involved, I knew they were going to be so excited. It's just a blessing, an extra activity for us to get together as a family and enjoy the holidays."
Ariya Meadows, 6; Justice Meadows, 5; Justin Meadows, 4, and twins, Kaylin and Jaylen, 3, took home a pile of gifts.
"They are going to be so excited to see something under the tree from Santa," said Meadows. "They're not opening them tonight."
Tracy said that has become a trend. "More and more, we're seeing families just take the gifts home for Christmas," she said. "For a lot of families, this is all the Christmas their children will have."
This is the first Christmas for Morrow Elementary School Principal Tammy Burroughs. She was stunned by the outpouring of support from the city.
"I'm just blown away," she said. "I knew they were going to do something, but I didn't know it would be of this magnitude, I didn't know all the behind-the-scenes that went on. I walked into a winter wonderland tonight. They've made a lot of smiles and Christmases for children tonight."
White said he hopes the families come away from the party with a sense of goodwill. "This is a way of letting them see there are people who care, and to keep the spirit of Christmas going," he said. "It should be a positive experience for the parents and children. See, I grew up here. Clayton County has changed a lot, but the basics are that people care. That will not change. There's always that basic."