Two organizations -- one growing from infancy and one with 60 years of service under its belt -- have come together in partnership with the goal of helping bringing Christmas cheer to Douglas County's children in need.
It was announced Wednesday morning that Operation Christmas Douglas County, in its third year of serving Douglas County's children most in need, has partnered with the North Atlanta U.S. Marine Corps Reserves Toys for Tots campaign.
What better location to announce this partnership than Fred's Bar-B-Q House on Thornton Road, where father-son owners Fred and Todd Harris have been hosting a Toys for Tots collection spot since 1997.
They were joined for the announcement by Superior Court Judge Beau McClain, whose vision led to the creation of Operation Christmas Douglas County in 2015, along with Randy Wilhite, assistant coordinator for Toys for Tots, Douglas County Sheriff Tim Pounds and Karen Emory.
McClain said that Fred, Todd and Karen, the driving forces in the Toys for Tots drive, came to him and said "let's work together. Can we do this together as a family and a team?"
Harris started the Toys for Tots event at his restaurant in 1997, and with the help of the late Capt. Herb Emory and his wife, Karen, beginning in 2001, has made it the hugely successful event it is today.
"Herb came out and did a live broadcast at Fred's for the Toys for Tots event, and that's how we got started in it," said Karen Emory, who keeps her and her late husband's spirit of generosity each year in the event.
"Fred started this," she said, "and he takes no credit. Each year it continued to grow and after Herb died, it continued to grow. People are so generous in his memory."
Friends and colleagues from WSB Radio and TV's traffic team came out in support of their friend and fellow traffic team member, who they continue to support since his passing. WSB will be broadcasting live at this year's event from Fred's Bar-B-Q House on Saturday, Dec. 9 from 1 to 4 p.m., said Emory. Toy collections will be held from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
WSB-TV Morning News Anchor Linda Stouffer came out to Fred's on Wednesday morning to cover the announcement of the Operation Christmas and Toys for Tots partnership.
The fourth annual Herb Emory Memorial Ride will be held Dec. 9 from the Harley-Davidson of Atlanta pavilion and Fred's Bar-B-Q House at 541 Thornton Road. The registration is $15 per bike and $5 per passenger, with registrations benefiting Toys for Tots. The race starts with Kick stands up at 11 a.m., according to Emory, who is coordinating the event.
So, with the tremendous support shown each year for both Operation Christmas Douglas County and the annual Toys for Tots programs received, this year expectations should go over the top in making sure that Douglas County's children get to experience the joys of Christmas.
"There's something about Christmas in Douglas County as a community that has come together like no other to ensure that no child in need wakes up to an empty tree," said McClain, the heart and voice of Operation Christmas Douglas County.
Operation Christmas came about through an unexpected donation of a tractor trailer full of toys in 2015, which sparked a vision in McClain's mind.
He related the story of how Toys for Tots came about with its inception in 1947 during the partnership announcement Wednesday to the group.
Toys for Tots began in 1947 when Maj. Bill Hendricks, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, was approached by his wife, Diane, with a Raggedy Ann doll which she asked her husband to give to an organization for a child in need at Christmas. When Bill determined that no organization existed, his wife suggested he should start one.
Operation Christmas Douglas County serves children with demonstrated needs, including those in the school system who qualify for free or reduced meals, are classified as homeless, live in a group home or shelter, attend Head Start, receive WIC and other services from the county health department, according to McClain.
Each child receives a "Golden Ticket" which is exchanged for new, age and gender appropriate gifts at a number of local churches, schools and public buildings on Dec. 9.
McClain said there are approximately 260 homeless children in Douglas County.
Within its first two years, Operation Christmas served over 18,000 children with a volunteer base of over 1,000 individuals.
The Toys for Tots event raised over $41,000 and a huge truckload of unwrapped toys last year.
McClain said the joint effort will increase the number of donation sites many times over and will make sure that no child gets left behind at Christmas.
"I think we can always do more, better, together," he said. ... "We will support Toys for Tots financially and create a model here in Douglas County that we hope can be replicated across the country, so that Toys for Tots can ultimately be part of one organization in each community dedicated to bringing Christmas cheer to children in need."