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Groups report successful toy, fundraising drives
Salvation Army bell ringers raised $145,000
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Operation Christmas Blessing was such a success that volunteers ended up giving children scoops of toys in plastic bags after they had given out their entire supply of 250 stockings filled with toys.

Wanda Atkins, co-pastor of the Lifeline Mission Center, which put on the toy drive and distributed the gifts, said the event “went wonderfully” in its first year.

“We’ve not been a ministry for a long time, but we were absolutely amazed at the result,” she said. “I’m going to say we probably touched over 300 kids’ lives.”

Atkins and others went door to door giving out donated toys to children.

“They were so amazed,” Atkins said. “You don’t expect someone to knock on your door and be kind for no reason.”

Operation Christmas Blessing was the brainchild of Rocky and Jenna Pridgen, but 20 other volunteers also helped, Atkins said.

“We’re just a group of people who came together,” she said. “We have a very big heart to bless kids that are in need.”

Other local holiday charities and drives reported similar success.

Carol LaMonica, coordinator of Mayors’ Christmas Motorcade, said two pickup trucks were filled with donations before being distributed to Avita Community Partners, which then handed out the gifts to those in group homes throughout Northeast Georgia.

“It was a wonderful turnout,” LaMonica said. “Avita was especially surprised at the gifts we had.”

LaMonica said the Mayors’ Christmas Motorcade was able to provide cash and Target and Walmart gift cards to group home residents.

“It was a good Christmas,” she said. “This is the time of year that (those in group homes) can be recognized, and it really does make a big difference to them to know that they have someone thinking of them. The people are amazed by what we pull together as a community.”

Salvation Army corps officer Lt. Matt Cunningham said bell ringers, who had red buckets situated outside of area stores this Christmas, collected more than $145,000 this year. That total is “on par” with usual collections. Bell ringers were in place at 34 locations throughout Hall, Dawson, Lumpkin, Barrow and Forsyth counties, he said.

Cunningham drew attention to the cause in early December by taking to the roof of Slack Auto Parts in Gainesville, planning to stay as long as it took to raise $10,000. Cunningham was off the roof in less than 36 hours.

“This is our largest fundraiser of the year,” Cunningham said. “All the funds we raised don’t just go toward helping the 726 families we served at Christmas, but it also goes to rent and utilities assistance for other families.”

He also said the Salvation Army helps provide emergency shelter and clothing to those in need throughout the year.

Cunningham said he appreciated everyone who donated and volunteered “to make this a successful year for the Salvation Army, which means it’s a successful year for the community.”