LUMBERTON — The Robeson County Church and Community Center looked a lot like Santa’s workshop Friday as Campbell’s Soup employees, volunteers and the big man himself unloaded thousands of pounds in holiday donations, including more than 100 bicycles.
With the help of a few forklift drivers, 20 employees passed 10,000 pounds of juice, soup, potatoes, cereal, diapers and hygiene products down an assembly line, all while singing “Jingle Bells” and other Christmas songs. They also rolled out more the bikes and other toys.
For 15 years, Campbell’s Soup in Maxton has donated items to the center’s Brighter Christmas program, which provides food and toys for needy families during the holiday season.
The items will be delivered to about 170 families who applied to be a part of the program, according to Darlene Jacobs, the center’s director.
“I’ve never seen anything like it before in my life,” said Jacobs, who was giddy at the sight of the donations and the familiar faces that delivered them.
During the rest of year, the center gives out food and helps those in need pay for utilities, rent and medicine. Its also provides families who have experienced fires, domestic violence or a family member going to prison with vouchers to buy clothing and home items at the store.
According to Jacobs, everyone at the center looks forward to the holiday season.
“It’s a real special time because these folks probably won’t get anything else besides what they get here,” said Jacobs, noting they even delivered a fully decorated Christmas tree to one family.
“It’s the highlight of our year,” said Jamie Leavack, the employee relations manager at Campbell’s. In November, the company’s vendors begin to donate money and food to a fund for the program, she said. Employees spend a week sorting the items into boxes, which are split evenly between The Robeson County Church and Community Center and Scotland County Church and Community Center.
“It really is a grassroots effort,” she said.
Ruthie Gilchrist, a utility service leader at Campbell’s, said she’s offered her help for the past four years because she knows the donations are needed.
“We see these shelves empty and know that we will fill them up,” Gilchrist said, referring to the center’s food pantry, one of the largest in the state.
Janice McLean, a fill operator, said seeing the center employees’ joy when they arrived was a highlight of her first year bringing donations.
“I like to give and we have the opportunity to give back,” she said.
It was also Santa’s first year on the assembly line, although he and Mrs. Claus regularly volunteer at the center’s home store next door.
“Wherever there’s good will, Santa’s got to be there,” he said while directing forklift traffic.