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Partners for Success gives 1,000 presents to children

The Santa Claus who presented more than 1,000 toys to Dearing and Thomson children on Christmas Eve had an uncanny resemblance to one Jason Smith.

The No. 1 helper showed the same empathy one would expect of one Miriam Smith.

In fact the McDuffie County Partners for Success agency that Mrs. Smith directs had gathered the dolls and games that found their way into hundreds of homes Friday morning and afternoon.

While Hanna, 3, and Seth, 8, selected their gifts from the trailer behind Santa's pickup, their mother said she was glad the caravan visited Magnolia Park. "I was really surprised," said Melissa Whitaker, a mother of six. "It was the first time I ever saw anybody do anything like that. It's good to reach out to the community and to do things like that."

At Thomson Villas, Germania Lazenby said, "We are so happy that somebody thought enough to come through here for the kids."

She said the effort has special meaning in a neighborhood that has limited activities for children.

A boy who stepped up to Santa's pickup knew exactly what he wanted -- an Xbox 360 game system.

"We're not Oprah, now," the head elf mused.

Undaunted, the youngster selected a box of checkers, smiled his appreciation and dashed away without giving his name.

James Lee Hordens said the visitors would make Christmas "a whole lot better" for many children in Magnolia Park.

"I thought it might be somewhere else, but not in my neighborhood," he said.

Thomson Elementary Principal Anita Cummings said she has supported the effort from behind the scenes in the past, "and this year I told them I want to take it to the next level, and that's to deliver the toys."

Her son Ty also embraced the chance to tour with Santa and to guide children to the trailer of toys.

Plainclothes elves Epp Wilson and Dr. Nancy Wilson helped all day and took photos at the morning's first stop, in Dearing.

Mrs. Smith's father, Bill Hampton, also helped with the deliveries.

Items distributed Friday were donated by residents, businesses and community groups. The total of more than 1,000 toys given this year was up from last year, when toys and gifts were presented to more than 750 children.

As children received toys, their parents received encouragement from Mrs. Smith. She explained how Partners for Success can help with job searches and other services and reminded families that the agency is right across the road from Thomson High School, at 1121 White Oak Road.

The visitors gave out brochures promoting healthful eating, parental involvement in schools and other precautions for protecting children.

Those reminders were a minor part of the service the agency provides year-round, which is to coordinate service and avoid duplication of resources among social-service agencies.

Mrs. Smith said she welcomed the opportunity "to be on the front line, to see what the needs are in the community."

The gift drive was separate from the Presents from Partners, in which donors "adopted" children before the holidays. Some people spent up to $400 on each child, she said. That effort provided gifts to more than 200 children this year. Those gifts were distributed more than two weeks ago.

In Friday's second wave of giving, Mrs. Smith said Santa and helpers were exhausted by the time all the presents were distributed, but they made time for a special young man who had hoped for Santa's autograph last year. The youngster offered Santa some coins and a snack. She said Santa answered, "Santa doesn't take money, but he does take cinnabuns."

At Thomson Villas, Jamesta Winfrey watched Justyce Lampkin, 2, select a Barbie doll. "Somebody said Santa Claus is giving out toys," she said. "That's very nice, giving toys out to the kids. Some people really needed that."

Web posted on Thursday, December 30, 2010

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