2009-12-25 / Front Page

Businesses pay it forward

Every child should have the opportunity to visit Santa.
By Cathy Cobbs

Chavis Jefferson talks with Santa during his visit to North Main Deli. Chavis Jefferson talks with Santa during his visit to North Main Deli. Eleven years ago, Sabrina Odom of North Main Deli became motivated by the conviction that every child should have the opportunity to visit with Santa, not just the ones who had money to pay for a picture.

“I noticed that kids would go to the mall, but then they couldn’t see Santa because it cost money,” Odom said. “Every kid needs to be with Santa.”

Thus, breakfast with Santa at North Main Deli was born. Nearly 100 children came that first year, and each got a visit with Santa and a small toy.

Since then, Odom has grown the event into a cooperative effort between local businesses and elementary schools, now handpicking about 150 children and inviting them to the breakfast event.

“In the past, we found that there were some people who were taking advantage, so now we work with school counselors to choose our guests, and personally invite them to have breakfast, talk to Santa and give them a gift,” she said.

Ajala Downing listens to Santa during his visit to North Main Deli. Ajala Downing listens to Santa during his visit to North Main Deli. On December 19, more than 150 children and parents from Hyatt Park and Arden Elementary schools had a great time at the event, along with some attendees representing Children’s Garden, whose clients include children and their families who are homeless, needy, in transition and/or lacking a support system.

A new element to the morning, a donation of eight bikes for raffling, was provided by Save Our Kids, an organization aimed at “being a voice for kids and for parents to be a role model for doing the right thing,” said founder Lee Carroll.

Any child winning a bicycle in the raffle was asked to give his or her smaller present to someone else who didn’t receive one, thus illustrating the Save Our Kids mantra of “All I want for Christmas is a smile, pass a gift forward.”

“It’s not about the money,” Carroll said. “It’s about teaching children to give.”

Each child made an ornament and had a picture taken with Santa, which, for the last eight years, has been occupied by mayoral candidate Steve Benjamin.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to make a difference in a child’s life,” said the bearded Benjamin shortly before receiving his first guest. “I have watched some of these kids grow up. When it’s all over, I’m tired, but fulfilled.”

Odom said she feels the event unites the community.

“This event has brought local businesses together to donate toys, hats, and gloves for the children,” she said. “It is a project that the city parks support and our councilman attend and support every year to feel the joy of giving, to feel normal without politics or business.”

She also said the businesses have come together each year to support the event, even this year, in tough economic times.

“The community has never let us down,” she said. “Thank you to Burkett System, Quaker Chemical, Dr. Dowdy, Zesto, Gist Law Firm, Project Unity, Palmetto Health, Eau Claire Rotary, and Steve Benjamin for lending your lap for a total of nine years and 750 kids later.”

See Jean’s Journal at www.TheColumbiaStar.com for video.

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