By M. Karen Brewer – Pickens Sentinel 12/6, 2000
Country Santa and his elves get into the Christmas spirit early.
"This is the lull before the storm," said Buddy Cox on the first day of December, as he and three of his 'elves' sorted donated toys for this years Country Santa operation.
Karen Dodgens, Cox's assistant at John S. Cox and Associates, has already been hard at work answering telephone calls for Country Santa, around 30 to 40 calls each day.
"It's such a hard job to get all of this pulled together," said Cox, who closes his Pickens business each December 10 concentrate his efforts on Country Santa. He credits Dodgens for her enormous help with the operation.
Around 2,000 children will be blessed with Christmas presents from Country Santa, who relies on the benevolence of the community for donated toys, and the assistance of volunteer 'elves' for picking up, sorting, and delivering donations.
Helping him sort through toys this day were two experienced elves and one elf on his first day.
Eric Breazel, a 1997 graduate of Pickens High School and a senior human resource development major at Clemson University, has returned each December since he was in high school to help Country Santa. "When Eric comes, it's like one of our kids coming back .
Bill Bradley said that he was invited to the Country Santa workshop by a friend in the Lions Club about five years ago. "I've been coming back every year after that," he said. "Once you get involved in it, you want to stay involved: You can't come up here and do this "without falling in love with it. I go all over the Upstate picking up toys. It's my favorite pastime. It's something I can do since I'm retired."
Bradley recruited his niece and her husband to Country Santa, and their two daughters, ages six and nine, can't wait to come and help, Bradley said.
Cox added that students from Pickens Middle School have already made a visit to the Workshop to help Country Santa sort toys.
Breazel helps Country Santa by picking up toys from drop-off-sites. "People don't get into the Christmas spirit until a week or two before Christmas," he said, "and that's when we do a lot of pickups. Now, we're sorting the toys as they come in." Breazel noted that toys for 180 families have already been bagged. "The earlier donations come in, and the earlier we get started, the better," he said.
"We encourage people to give new toys, or at least to make sure that the toys are in good condition," said Breazel.
"We try to stress to people who donate to us to please donate new or nearly new toys," said Cox. "We're trying to curb the old used toys that we just can't give to kids. We don't have the time or the manpower to try to repair cars that have only three wheels, or dolls that l1ave stains all over them.
"We're trying to get the word out that we want to help as many people in this area as we can," Cox continued, "but we can help only as many kids as we get toys for."
Bradley added that coverage from the local newspapers is welcomed in getting the word out to the public. "If we didn't have The Pickens Sentinel and The Easley Progress, we wouldn't have any publicity," he said. "We appreciate it very much."
Cox noted that 300 bicycles will be re-stored by Bonnie and Vos Vosburgh for Country Santa to give to children this
Christmas. "They do a tremendous job every year," he said.
"You can't overlook all of the diehard elves, like Bill, Eric, Bob Spalding, and Karen," Cox continued. "They're here every year.
Although Country Santa reaches into parts of Greenville, Spartanburg, and Laurens Counties, Cox said that he would like to try to focus efforts more on Pickens and Oconee Counties.
Cox said that the Salvation Army and United Christian Ministries no longer screen applicants for Country Santa, and that the screening process takes a lot of time out of the country Santa operation. "I would like to focus on going through agencies for screening calls, because that's where so much of our time gets gone," he said.
"We helped 750 families last year, with the skeleton crew that we have. It takes a lot of lard work from all of the volunteers. And we thank the public for donating. We're not supported by any state or federal funds, the United Nay, or anything. We're totally dependent on people donating to us.”
Toys are not the only donations Country Santa receives and distributes. Schools, Girl Scouts, churches, and other groups have sponsor food drives. This year, Hillcrest Memorial Park has begun a non-perishable food drive which will run through December 22, at which time, food donations will be given to Country Santa to deliver on Christmas Eve.
Cox and his elves depend upon drop-off sites for Country Santa toy donations. Pizza Inn, 1ocated in the Town Creek Shopping Center in Pickens, is one such drop-offsite where patrons can bring new or nearly new toys for delivery to Country Santa.
Area motorcyclists will once again show their support for Country Santa with' their annual toy run.
During last year's run, from Pickens to Easley, bikers and their families brought stuffed animals and other toys for Country Santa to give away Christmas Eve to area children. Toy run organizer 'Teresa Stafford said that 250 motorcyclists participated, and that others donated gifts before the run.
This year's toy run will begin at the Greenville-Pickens Speedway outside Easley on Sunday, December 10. Bikers will meet at noon and pull out at 1:00 p.m., headed for the American Legion Hut on Pine Thicket Road in Norris. Toys will dropped off at the American Legion Hut, where food and beverages will be available, and a raffle awing for gift certificates and donated gifts will held. $1 tickets will be offered at the Speedway, the proceeds going to Country Santa.
"It's enjoyable when everybody pulls together," said Cox of the community's efforts to help children.
You would expect Country Santa to have figures of Santa Claus in his home, and he does. One is sentimental Santa, who will read aloud a small book that you place in his hands. Another is a comical Santa, who dances to a lively beat. But another, which Cox showed during a previous visit to his home, is a praying Santa, kneeling before he Christ child.
Cox said that he doesn't let the true meaning of Christmas become lost. In each bag of toys, he said, there is placed a note that reads: With love from Jesus and Country Santa.
The culmination of the season's efforts will )e Christmas Eve, when elves from near and far come to Country Santa's headquarters in the Oolenoy Valley to help deliver toys to area children.
On Christmas Eve, small toys become small miracles
It's no wonder that miracles happen at Country Santa's headquarters at the end of a lane that turns off a road named Miracle Hill.
If you would like to volunteer as an elf to help collect toys from drop-off sites or to help unload, sort, or bag toys at the Country Santa workshop, Call John S. Cox and Associates at 878-2045.
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