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Community donates more than 1,700 toys for Boys & Girls Clubs events
Leadership Hall volunteers at each site
Shy’la Jones and T’asia Robinson, both 8, receive gifts from Santa at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County’s annual holiday celebration Thursday night at the Positive Place Club. Nearly 600 kids at both Positive Place and the J.F. Walters Club received gifts and a meal at the celebrations. - photo by DALLAS DUNCAN

'Twas the week before Christmas when all through the club, every child was excited — you could tell through the hubbub.

The stockings were hung in the lobby with care, as children waited for Santa to appear.

The children were eating chicken and green beans, while they watched for presents to enter the scene.

And for some at the Boys & Girls Clubs locations Thursday night, this was their Christmas.

"For some with the economic times, they might be out of work and they're struggling to provide a Christmas environment at home, so we want to do it at the club," said Steve Mickens, chief professional officer for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County.

Thursday was the yearly holiday dinner at the Positive Place and Joseph F. Walters clubs.

"We've been having an annual holiday celebration here for as long as I remember, about 20 years," Mickens said. "We want to celebrate the holiday, and it gives us an opportunity to give gifts to every child."

Leadership Hall County collected more than 1,700 gifts, enough for each of the children to have at least two, Mickens said.

"For us, it means a lot. The kids we serve, everyone's not fortunate enough to have a great Christmas," Mickens said. "Christmas is a big holiday for kids in general."

The Future, a choir of 6- and 7-year-olds, sang "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Jingle Bell Rock." A second choir also serenaded partygoers, and Mickens read "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" with a bit of a twist — a slideshow behind him made Boys & Girls Clubs volunteers as the animals in the story.

But the highlight of the night came at the end, when Santa came.

"Santa Claus is here handing out presents after we eat," said Gracey Midkiff, 11, a fifth-grader at New Holland Core Knowledge Academy.

Midkiff was one of the 350 kids in line at the Positive Place Club, waiting to get toys, stuffed animals and treats from Santa.

Litzy Villaverde, 11, a fifth-grader at White Sulphur Elementary School, also came for the presents.

"I've been coming four years," said Mya Reid, 11, also a fifth-grader at White Sulphur. "They donate a lot of stuff to people. Everyone should come because it's a positive place."

Leadership Hall volunteers were on both club sites Thursday, as well as their other service project, a Christmas party for the Gateway House.

Emily Whitehead, a Leadership Hall student from Milton-Martin Toyota, was in charge of the toy drive.

"We put out boxes at local businesses and were able to collect about 1,700 presents dispersed between (Positive Place) and the Walters Club. ... You can just see the excitement of the season on the faces of everyone who brought in gifts," she said. "The kids are so grateful and they've told us how much they appreciate and love it."

One little boy came up to Dana Miller, vice president of education for the Hall County Chamber of Commerce, and asked if she bought all the presents. She told him she didn't, but the community did.

"He asked me, ‘Why did they do that?' And I said, ‘Because they love you,'" Miller said. "And he got down on his knees and went, ‘Ms. Dana, I love them too.'"