AIKEN --- Antrionate Barnes was glad to be the one giving instead of receiving this Christmas.
The Aiken mom and her two kids donated toys for the Marine Corps League's Toys for Tots on Wednesday. Her kids were able to take a photo with Santa and Mrs. Claus while at The Restaurant at the Willcox in exchange for the donated toys.
"I wasn't able to provide the Christmas before last, so I know how it feels," she said. "It's good to see my kids happy, and it's good to be able to help."
About 1,200 families will be helped through Aiken County's Toys for Tots, and several families expressed their need closer to the holidays, said local coordinator Lane Parker. The toy drive and fundraiser will allow the organization to buy and donate toys today, so the families will have them by Christmas morning. The local chapter has donated more than 160,000 toys since 1991.
"The kids are getting to have a good time, and they're helping underprivileged kids," Mr. Parker said. "Right now, it's a time where people that may have been donating before are in need. That's why our need is so great."
Shannon Ellis, the owner of The Restaurant, approached Mr. Parker about hosting the toy drive. She enlisted the help of employees and friends -- to play Santa and Mrs. Claus -- and professional photographer Todd List to make the holiday portraits possible. The restaurant opened in September.
"This is really the last day they would be able to reach out to families in need before Christmas," she said.
"We're glad to be able to do this as a way to welcome in our first Christmas in Aiken."
Jessica Brumfield of Aiken brought her two kids, Owen, 5, and Olivia, 18 months, to donate toys and tell Santa their wishes as Christmas nears.
She said she hopes the donations will inspire the families who receive the toys.
"It'll make a much better Christmas morning for these families," she said.
"Maybe it'll make them believe in the Christmas spirit."
Reach Stephanie Toone at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WANT TO HELP?
To donate to Toys for Tots in Aiken, call (803) 644-8300 or visit www.toysfortots.org.