LUMBERTON — Christmas came nine days early for hundreds of children affected by Hurricane Matthew.
Arrested Potential Inc., and Sandy Grove Baptist Church partnered to play host Saturday to the annual Christmas Toy Give-A-Way, during which about 2,200 toys were given to local children.
Donations came from many organizations in Robeson County, and organizers reached out to new donors for this year’s event.
“We got a lot of donations from toy manufacturers,” said Gene Jones, Arrested Potential executive director.
Mattel Children’s Foundation, Crayola, Mega Bloks and Goldieblox were among the toy companies that contributed to the drive.
“The kids got good quality toys,” said Harriette Hardin, Arrested Potential grant writer.
The amount of donations exceeded organizers’ expectations.
“Our goal was 1,000 toys,” Hardin said.
The Give-A-Way was intended to help families still recovering from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Matthew in October 2016.
“Those are the people we are trying to reach,” Hardin said. “Once the newspapers and TV reporters are gone, you’re on your own.”
The Give-A-Way was held in the church. Rows of tables were covered with toys for families to look at and ponder at their leisure.
Organizers took a different approach with this year’s Give-A-Way.
“We used to have it on the back of a trailer and go through the community,” Hardin said. “After the flood, we had Santa Sam last year from Chicago. We decided that this year we would do it again so people could see the difference from one year to the next. Last year, everyone was outside in the cold. This entire building was gutted. It was freezing cold in here and we were still giving out toys.”
Attendees struggled to find ways to make it to the church in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.
“They even came in buses from the places they were staying temporarily,” Jones said.
The circumstances were different this year, and that helped make the drive successful, Hardin said.
“I think it was greater than it was last year,” Hardin said. “People were no longer in hotels or living with other folks.”
The drive, which took place at 1601 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, is in its fourth year. Volunteers came from around the region.
“The Department of Social Services is here volunteering, Robeson Community College has volunteers here, church volunteers,” Hardin said. “We had just over 2,000 toys, and they’re just about all gone, so we’ve seen just about that many kids come through here.”
Hardin wants the Give-A-Way’s structure to continue to improve in years to come. An earlier start time and an extended outreach to toy companies are on the agenda for future toy drives.
“We need to build off what we did this year,” Hardin said. “The community has got to be tapped (of resources). It takes a community to make a difference.
“I really want to thank everyone who has helped.”
Arrested Potential is an organization that provides opportunities for students who struggle with reading and math to improve on those skills through tutoring and computer activities.
Reach Brandon Tester at 910-416-5165 or on Twitter @Tester_Brandon.