Published: Dec 22, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Dec 22, 2012 03:53 PM
CHAPEL HILL - Santa can check off 793 names this year on the list of good children.
Thousands of volunteers with the Chapel Hill Service League have already made Christmas magic for them.
The leagues Christmas House takes a whole year to pull together, said Natalie Wilde, this years event chairwoman. Only the volunteers, parents and grandparents know what day the doors will open at Binkley Baptist Church. This year, Christmas House opened for shopping Dec. 1.
Theyre encouraged to come without the kids to keep (the gifts) a surprise, Wilde said.
Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools social workers refer low-income families to the program who have children ages 3 through eighth grade. The event, first held in 1951, helped 841 children last year.
Parents make an appointment with a guide and an interpreter, if needed, to pick out toys, a couple of books, a coat and a bag of stocking stuffers for each child. Some also win bikes and helmets donated by the East Chapel Hill Rotary Club and the Carolina Club. Volunteers and Performance Bicycle staff check them twice.
Wilde said they buy roughly half the gifts with donations and grants. They collect the rest largely from Wish Trees at University Mall, Carr Mill Mall and other locations around town. The group takes a break in February and March, and recruits more volunteers before the summer shopping season starts.
Mebane resident David Scott has been the coat guy since 1998. Because he buys the coats wholesale and knows other people in the apparel business, the league saves money, he said. This year, they spent at least $10,000 about $12.57 for each coat. Purple Puddle donated another 50 coats, and they had some left from last year, volunteer Amanda Harris said.
Roughly 3,000 to 4,000 of the leagues more than 6,000 annual service hours are spent on Christmas House, Wilde said.
Smaller projects include preparing meals for the SECU Family House and working with the Cornucopia House Cancer Support Center and Dress for Success, which provides professional attire for low-income women.
The whole purpose is to help women be knowledgeable about the needs of women and children in our community, volunteer Ann White said.
While most league members are women, families often get in the spirit of Christmas House.
Chris Simon and her son Howard, an MBA student at UNC, have helped for several years. Its an important lesson for children, especially at Christmas, Simon said.
Everybody should get something every year, she said.
But the families arent the only ones who benefit, the volunteers said.
Volunteer Kim Whitney said she helped sort more than a thousand coats this year. Its not easy work, but the joy is in being able to make someone elses Christmas brighter, she said. Every year, theres at least one person whose eyes light up when they find that perfect gift, she said.
When they do, Im the one that cries, Whitney said.