Cathryn Miller was near the checkout counter at a Yemassee discount store a month ago when she heard a cashier ask a small boy what he wanted for Christmas.
The child said he wanted warm socks and gloves. It’s cold waiting for the bus, he said.
“I came home and started contacting some friends all over the U.S. to see if we could pull something together pretty fast,” Miller said.
Miller began a push to collect hundreds of presents to give to Beaufort and Hampton county families in need. And in the process she is picking up a tradition her friend and fellow event DJ is ending this year.
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Lady’s Island resident Donna Patrick has spent the past 12 years organizing a toy drive for Beaufort County children. She expects to deliver gifts to more than 130 children by the last delivery on Christmas Eve, the most she has given.
This is Patrick’s final year. She recently remarried, wants to travel, and the toy campaigns require much of her time and attention the final month of the year.
“It explodes inside my house in the middle of November, and I really don’t see my house again until January,” Patrick said. “I think 12 years is long enough.”
After more than a decade, people from around the world know of Patrick’s toy drive and give without prompting, she said.
She accepts cash gifts and shops for the best deals, even hitting up Black Friday sales when she otherwise would not have bothered and buying Christmas items on clearance to prepare for the next year. She posts pictures of the piles of wrapped gifts on social media so donors can see and hosts wrapping parties to share the load.
A list of children for both women was compiled from suggestions from local school teachers, counselors, churches and nonprofit organizations. Patrick is retired from the U.S. Navy and also gets suggestions for families of active-duty service members from base chaplains.
She will pack her Ford F-150 and small utility trailer and deliver what could be as many as 1,000 presents starting this weekend until Christmas Eve night if necessary.
Miller had close to 500 presents wrapped on Wednesday and planned to hand them out directly to children on Friday and Saturday.
Patrick said she learned after the first couple of years how some parents returned gifts for cash for themselves and solicited donations from multiple organizations. She now requires the children be present to receive the gifts when she drops them off and has removed tags and covered barcodes.
Almost all the recipients are grateful, Patrick said, often ready with thank-you notes or plates of cookies when the gifts arrive.
The toy drive started after a group met in Beaufort Town Center to play music and raise money for those displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. After the initial event, Patrick decided to move on to donations for Christmas.
She remembered the response after her house burnt down one Christmas when she was a child, and the local community provided clothes and gifts.
Now she’s stepping away, content with other community efforts like Miller’s.
The woman both run event businesses as DJs, working weddings, clubs and military balls and referring each other when they’re unable to work an event, Miller said.
She spent four weeks organizing her toy drive this year, receiving donations from fellow DJs, local real estate agents, friends from out of state and from the Yemassee mayor and police chief.
The wrap-around porch of her Yemassee home was about half covered in wrapped gifts labeled with ages and whether the toys were most appropriate for a boy or girl. She chose gifts she hoped would prove educational and those that required some thought and assembly.
She plans to start next year’s effort in January, taking advantage of after-Christmas deals. She hopes to include area nursing homes on the list of recipients.
“I’m going to get a team of wrappers next year,” Miller said, surveying close to 500 presents spread on her porch. “Because I’m done with (wrapping).”