Originally created 12/23/99

Holiday drive successful



AIKEN -- Almost as quickly as Santa circles the world in one night, Joe Holt organized a gift drive for some of Aiken County's neediest children.

Elves he recruited dropped off three truckloads of toys Wednesday at Children's Place Inc., a child and family development center in Aiken.

"This is amazing," Executive Director Peggy Ford said. "We've never been able to supply this many gifts for our children."

Dr. Holt, a child and family therapist in North Augusta, began enlisting elves last week to help him pull off what he calls Operation Santa. He asked businesses and friends to provide 125 children -- from 6 months to 12 years old -- with a Christmas to remember.

"I found out that Children's Place didn't have a gift drive, so we rallied forces to see that Christmas was everything those kids hoped for," Dr. Holt said.

Ms. Ford asked the center's children -- some from foster homes and shelters -- to pick three items they wanted for Christmas. Businesses and individuals from Aiken County and Augusta "adopted" a child to shop for.

"What really got to me was that there were a lot of requests for winter coats," said State Farm employee Martha Dowden.

Dr. Holt's secretary, Lois Shive, said a woman walked into their office with eight bags of gifts, including four CD players.

"A little girl had asked for a CD player and I was worried she wouldn't get it," said Ms. Shive, who couldn't believe it when someone actually donated four. "I was just in tears."

With help from the community, Operation Santa collected more than $3,500 in gifts and an extra $275 for Children's Place for supplies, Dr. Holt said. The gift drive will be an annual event, he added.

The elves' generosity touched a mother who brings her children to the center. She'd lost her job and was worried she couldn't give her children the Christmas they deserved, Ms. Ford said.

"She said all she could give them was love," Ms. Ford said. "Now, they'll have plenty of presents to open Christmas morning."

Reach Katie Throne at (803) 279-6895.