A campaign by an Orangeburg ministry helped provide a merry Christmas to about 150 local children.
Organizers and volunteers with the third annual Men of Hope Initiative took youth to Walmart on North Road on Dec. 16 and 23. Organized and led by the Deacon Ministry of Unity Fellowship Community Church in Orangeburg, the campaign’s purpose is to invest in the lives of the children in the community, said Deacon Samuel Farlow, one of the organizers.
Men of Hope raised $15,500 from individuals, businesses and civic groups this year, Farlow said.
“Many volunteers and participants were in tears at the overflow of love and support from the community,” he said. “Everybody left hopeful, looking forward to next year.”
Guidance counselors, teachers and social workers were consulted to identify underprivileged boys and girls who could benefit the most from the initiative. Each child was given a $100 Walmart gift card and paired with a volunteer to do their Christmas shopping.
Many of the children purchased toys, but some purchased daily necessities such as shoes, clothing and bedding.
“This initiative demonstrates the heart of God through love, service and fellowship,” said the Rev. Jerome Anderson, pastor of Unity Fellowship Community Church.
From college students to religious leaders, lawyers, educators, local churches and law enforcement, the support from the community was overwhelming, Farlow said.
Randy Zeigler, a local contractor who made a generous donation to the initiative, said he “just wanted to give back to the community, especially during Christmas.”
According to Farlow, about 150 children were helped by this year’s campaign, including children with special needs and disabilities.
Katrina Spears of the Orangeburg County Disabilities and Special Needs Board gave her thanks to Farlow and the Men of Hope on behalf of her agency and the parents.
“Those who received the donation expressed how much it helped to make Christmas a joyful occasion for their child,” Spears said.
Farlow said Walmart’s management was “extremely helpful,” donating funds and providing breakfast for volunteers and participants. Bojangles’ on Chestnut Street donated coffee, he said.
“This is what Christmas is all about, just seeing the smiles on the children’s faces and their gratitude,” volunteer Chuck Henson said.
Volunteers and financial contributions came from across the state.
“This was a life-changing experience,” said Tori Kiel, who, with her husband Brian, drove from Charleston to assist the children with their shopping.
Other support came from Unity Fellowship Community Church members, Orangeburg Consolidated School District 5, South Carolina State University, Claflin University, Beta Zeta Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and the Omega Psi Phi fraternity, Farlow said.
LaTonya Nelson, assistant principal at Brookdale Elementary School, said it was “an honor and a privilege” to assist with the initiative. The initiative was extended to include girls this year, and Nelson helped spearhead the event on their behalf.
“It was such a blessing to witness the community coming together to make sure our children have a wonderful Christmas,” she said. “It was also a blessing to see the smiles on the children’s faces and the humbling spirits of the parents and guardians.”