“It’s a blessing,” said Deanna Brown-Thomas, the daughter of legendary soul singer James Brown. “Dad started this 24 years ago and by the grace of God we were able to continue.”
Children whirled around the James Brown Arena on shiny new bicycles in-between about a dozen costumed superheroes and Santa while others spun hula hoops to Christmas music sung by the James Brown Academy of Musik Pupils. Small children barely old enough to walk proudly pulled along white trash bags containing their new toys.
But the children weren’t the only ones smiling.
For April Johnson, the toy giveaway gave her daughter the Christmas she couldn’t afford for the second year in a row.
After Johnson lost her job in 2012, she turned her focus to going back to college. After graduating earlier this week from Virginia College with a degree in medical assisting, she and her family are hopeful for better days ahead.
“It’s been a really hard time, but I didn’t want her to go without,” Johnson said of her 7-year-old daughter. “She’s really excited.”
All children got a choice of a bicycle or four new toys through the Brown Family Children Foundation. Other sponsors at the event offered items like hula hoops and books.
“It’s not all about toys. It’s about literacy,” said Kimberly Baxter-Lee, who helped at the book table.
Baxter-Lee, the dean of administration at James Brown Academy of Musik Pupils, said they teamed up with Scholastic books to hand out more than $5,000 worth of new books for reading ages 2 to 18. She hoped to encourage parents and children to “read, read, read.”
“There’s a book for everybody,” she said. “No excuses.”
In addition to getting toys, Andrea Keith, of Waynesboro, said her 4-year-old also got the opportunity to meet a superhero he loved.
“(The toy giveaway) has helped a lot,” said Keith, a seven-month pregnant mother of two. “I’m pregnant and don’t have a job.”
Dressed in a Superman shirt and hat, her son posed for a picture next to Superman played by Bryan Williams, of Bryton Entertainment, which has been sending superheroes to the event for the past 10 years.
“This is a wonderful experience for us,” said Williams, co-founder of Bryton Entertainment.