James Brown might not be around anymore to hand out toys to needy children, but his memory lives on through his annual Christmas toy giveaway.
Parents and children began lining up outside the Imperial Theatre on Broad Street as early as 5 a.m. today, all hoping to see a bit of Christmas cheer in a turbulent holiday season.
Among those at the event to help hand out toys were the Rev. Al Sharpton, Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver and Brown family members.
James Brown's last public appearance was at the Christmas toy giveaway two years ago. Deanna Brown, Mr. Brown's daughter, reflected on how the event carried on her father's goodwill.
“Dad was a huge giver. Events like the turkey giveaway and the toy giveaway were very important to him. He did gigs all over the world, and got paid big money to be at places, but to come to his old neighborhood and help those less fortunate than himself who were like he was when he was a child showed he didn't forget where he came from,” she said.
The current economic situation did not stop people from making donations this year.
“My guess is that we had well over a thousand donated this year,” said Bill Botham, public relations manager for Comcast, one of the toy contributors.
“When people come out at 5 o'clock in the morning to wait and stand in line, for us to do what we're doing has been a blessing,” said Ms. Brown.
She said the donated toys came from the community and from places as far away as California, New York and North Carolina.
Donors included the Brown Family Children's Foundation, Comcast, Global Spectrum, Mattel and the Augusta Fire Department.
The Rev. Sharpton said that helping with the toy giveaway was his way of honoring his good friend's memory.
“We forget that everybody doesn't have and even more people are like that now. Last month alone a half-million people lost their jobs, so it would not be the same kind of Christmas for everybody, but thank God for James Brown for putting in our hearts that wherever we go we can help. As I got older I found out there was no Santa Claus, but there is a James Brown,” he said.
The Rev. Sharpton said that he intends to return to help with the toy and turkey giveaways in future years as well.
“I'll be here every year because that's what Mr. Brown meant to me,” he said.
Many parents came to the giveaway wanting to make sure that their children could have a merry Christmas. Carolyn Knight said that this was her first year at the giveaway. She said that she had brought her three children and her niece with her so that they could receive toys.
“I thought the event was well put together. It's a pleasure for a lot of kids that really don't get to enjoy a toy for Christmas,” Ms. Knight said.
Shanta Neal said that she had been waiting in line with her son since between 7 and 8 a.m. To her, the event itself was representative of who Mr. Brown was as a person.
“He had a huge heart, and this shows he was a very loving person,” Ms. Neal said.