Hundreds receive gifts at annual James Brown giveaway

Season gets on good foot

Children’s eyes grew big and bright at the annual James Brown Toy Giveaway on Monday morning. More than 600 received presents, some hugging their soft teddy bears or taking bikes for a test spin around the James Brown Arena floor.

“Times are hard right now. James Brown looks out for everyone,” parent Kelvin Hammonds Sr. said. “You can always count on them to
make sure everyone has a great Christ­mas.”

Hammonds received three toys for his 22-month old son, Kelvin Hammonds Jr. Small toddler toys with twinkling lights will be wrapped and placed under the Christmas tree, he said.

The Godfather of Soul started the tradition, and his family members continue the toy giveaway for area families. Thousands of gifts were distributed to parents who preregistered their children.

“It’s just a blessing to be able to give and to see the kids’ smiling faces,” said Brown’s daughter Deanna Brown-Thomas. “And to do it in the spirit of my dad. This is something he started.”

The giveaway began at 9 a.m., but families arrived early for face painting, visits with Santa Claus and musical entertainment by the J.A.M.P. Masters, students from the J.B. Academy of Musik Pupils.

Brown, a self-taught musician, dreamed that children would receive music education, said his daughter Venisha Brown. About 15 pupils, ages 6 to 18, enrolled in the music academy are learning to read music, play instruments and perform for audiences.

“This is something my dad always wanted,” Venisha Brown said. “It’s actually adding on to the tradition of the toy giveaway.”

Some families attended the giveaway for the first time. Darlene Vedrine, of North Augusta, used to tell people her financial need wasn’t great enough to accept free gifts. Now, she’s raising her granddaughter, whose father is unemployed.

“There’s a hardship,” Vedrine said. “I brought her here to see if we could help get her something for Christmas.”

LaToya Wright, who is disabled and unemployed, feared her two children would feel left out on Christmas morning when other children opened gifts. The toy giveaway made a brighter holiday for her family.

“My kids wouldn’t have had Christ­mas if we didn’t come down here,” Wright said. “It’s really special to see a lot of families get help, especially the ones who can’t afford to get their toys anymore.”

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