Shauntae Jordan felt like Santa Claus. With a wish list in one hand and a plastic bag in the other, 28-year-old Jordan searched through piles of toys for the one requested by a 6-year-old girl -- a Dora the Explorer doll.
Jordan smiled when she found Dora on a table piled high with donated toys. "When they open this on Christmas Day, I will feel like I am part of their family," she said.
Jordan was busy Wednesday stuffing bags with toys for local children. She is one of about 15 volunteers working this week to make Christmas dreams come true for needy York County children through Toys for Happiness. The annual toy distribution program, created by WRHI radio and the local United Way, provides toys for needy children through age 14 at Christmas.
Because so many more families need help this Christmas, The Herald's Empty Stocking Fund will donate all its money this year to two local holiday toy programs -- Toys for Happiness and the Salvation Army's Angel Tree program.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Jordan said it often is hard to find exactly what children have requested because there aren't enough toys. "My only concern is if I don't fulfill their wishes. I try hard to find the item that their mother requested," Jordan said.
Last year, Toys for Happiness gave toys to more than 2,700 York County children. This year, United Way officials expect that number to nearly double.
Applications for toys still are being accepted. They will be accepted at the Rock Hill YMCA on Friday and Saturday -- the last days that families can apply.
Beth Covington, spokes-person for United Way of York County, said people who have never asked for assistance before need help to provide gifts for their children.
The York Family Resource Center this year has taken more than twice as many applications as it did last year from western York County families in need of toys, director Penny Sanders said.
"A lot expressed that they hated to come, but it was the difference in buying toys for their children or paying a power bill or house payment," said Sanders.
More toys are needed this year than in the past to help all the applicants. On Tuesday, Toys for Happiness received 2,000 toys from Toys for Tots, but those won't be enough, said Kyle Neely, a volunteer coordinator for Toys for Happiness.
The toys are stored, sorted and distributed at the Flexible Learning Center's Flint Street Extension in Rock Hill. Volunteers will distribute the toys to families Dec. 18 and 19.
Toys that are especially needed this year include bikes, electronics such as CD and MP3 players, infant toys and sporting items, such as balls, bats, gloves and mitts, Neely said.
Also needed are toys for older children, ages 12 to 14. Sporting items, makeup and pocketbooks are popular requests. "The older the child, the more difficult it is to find their wish," Jordan said.
Husband and wife volunteers Mac and Beverly McLaughlin have been filling bags of toys together for the program for two years. Beverly has volunteered for four years.
"I love working with children and helping the children. That's what Christmas is all about," said Beverly McLaughlin, who is battling a rare form of cancer.
Beverly McLaughlin said the most popular requested item on children's wish lists this year is the same as last year a bicycle. On Black Friday, while visiting family members in Virginia, the McLaughlins purchased four bikes, brought them back to Rock Hill and donated them to Toys for Happiness.
"It's just for the children. You hate to know that they're not going to get something," said Mac McLaughlin, 63. "You can do something about it."
Another longtime volunteer is Art Berger, who has helped fill bags of toys for more than five years. Berger, 68, said he's concerned there might not be enough toys to fill all the requests.
"These kids deserve to have a little bit like everybody else, but it's become a choice -- do we pay the bill and have something to eat, or do we buy gifts?" said Berger.
So far, volunteers have packed bags of toys for 100 families. Neely said he expects the volunteers will fill at least 2,000 bags this year, one for each family. Each child will receive six to seven toys, depending on what is available, Neely said.
Berger said his favorite part of volunteering for Toys for Happiness is giving out the bags of toys on distribution day. "You're really trying to make a difference in somebody's life," Berger said. "To make somebody's wish come true."
Your contributions fill the Empty Stocking
The Empty Stocking Fund, organized by The Herald, is an annual holiday effort to help needy families in the newspaper's readership area.
This year, the fund will donate all its money to two local programs that provide Christmas gifts to needy children. The two programs are TOYS FOR HAPPINESS, created by WRHI radio and the United Way of York County, and the Salvation Army's ANGEL TREE.
Contributions to the Empty Stocking Fund can be mailed to P.O. Box 10921, Rock Hill, SC 29731, or dropped off at The Herald, 132 W. Main St., Rock Hill. Contributors' names will be published in The Herald.
Families in need of toys may apply to Toys for Happiness from 9:30 a.m. to noon Friday and from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday at the Charlotte Avenue YMCA in Rock Hill.
Children’s legal guardians must complete the application. Applicants must bring a photo ID and proof of income.
Also, bring either a DSS family printout or Social Security cards and birth certificates for eligible children.
Applications cannot be combined with other assistance programs. For details, call the United Way of York County at 803-324-2735 or visit United Way of York County's web site .