There will be a lot of excitement this Saturday, when hearts grow bigger and people feel just a little more generous in making sure all children in Douglas County find gifts under their tree on Christmas morning.
The day starts off in a competitive way at Mason Creek Middle School, which is holding its fifth annual Wolf 5K and Fun Run at its campus at 7777 Mason Creek Road in Winston.
The race fee is for participants to bring a new, unwrapped toy for Toys for Tots in memory of the late Capt. Herb Emory.
Race Day Registration and packet pick up is held from 6:30 to 7:45 a.m. The 5K race begins at 8 a.m. and the Fun Run begins at 8:45 a.m.
Physical education teacher Judy Cross has organized the event each year.
“I listened to Capt. Herb for many years,” Cross said. “I knew Capt. Herb was very passionate about the Toys for Tots program. I thought there was no better way to honor his memory than to have the students and staff at Mason Creek Middle School host a toy drive. This is a great opportunity to give back to the community, plus everyone has fun participating in the 5K or Fun Run!”
The annual U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots drive at Fred’s Bar-B-Q House on Thornton Road in Lithia Springs will be held on Saturday, Dec. 9. The event is an annual gathering to keep alive the memory and love of so many for Capt. Herb Emory during his signature event and to bring Christmas joy to children in need with the gift of toys on Christmas morning.
Longtime host of the Toys for Tots Drive Fred Harris and his son, Todd, created the event in 1997 and with the help of the late Capt. Herb Emory and his wife, Karen, beginning in 2001, 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,” said Karen Emory. “That’s how we got started in it.”
Friends and colleagues from WSB will come out in support of their friend and fellow traffic team member’s signature event and do a live radio broadcast from 1 to 4 p.m. throughout the toy drive.
The fourth annual Herb Emory Memorial Ride will be held in conjunction with the toy drive from the Harley-Davidson of Atlanta pavilion and Fred's Bar-B-Q House. 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.
This year offers some returning and new features this year, said Emory, including face painting by the art students from New Manchester High School. There will also be a make and take foam ornament project for kids to create.
In addition, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation will have its robot on site during the Toys for Tots drive, along with a bloodmobile which will be accepting blood donations throughout the day. The NASCAR Simulator will also be at the Toys for Tot event.
New to the Toys for Tot event this year is a wrestling group who will be setting up a ring for an exhibition during the day, Emory said.
She said they are hoping to top the $43,000 and a huge truckload of toys generated from the toy drive last year.
It was announced back in November 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.
While the Toys for Tots Collection Drive is going on at Fred’s Bar-B-Q in Lithia Springs all day Saturday, Operation Christmas will be distributing toys to children clutching “Golden Tickets” at 28 locations throughout Douglas County Saturday morning between 9 and 11 a.m.
Operation Christmas came about through an unexpected donation of a tractor trailer full of toys in 2015, which sparked a vision in Superior Court Judge Beau McClain's mind.
McClain, the heart and voice of Operation Christmas Douglas County, said within its first two years, Operation Christmas served over 18,000 children with a volunteer base of over 1,000 individuals. On Saturday, he anticipates serving over 8,000 of Douglas County’s children in need and distributing anywhere from 10,000 to 15,000 toys.
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.
He said that there are approximately 260 homeless children in Douglas County.
Each eligible child received a "Golden Ticket" beginning last week, which is exchanged for new, age and gender appropriate gifts at a number of local churches, schools and public buildings.
While the “Elf Squad’s” biggest distribution day is on Saturday, it doesn’t stop there.
McClain said volunteers will be going behind them afterwards to make sure that no child “fell through the cracks” or were unable to register for Operation Christmas.
Churches of every denomination is participating in this program, he said, and many are going beyond serving as a distribution center.
“Several of the churches are putting on programs for the kids,” he said. “A lot are serving food or things like hot chocolate. This will be a very exciting event.”
The annual lighting of the Douglas County Christmas Tree will be held at Deer Lick Park, complete with a host of family-friendly holiday activities.
The activities begin at 1 p.m, with an afternoon filled with fun activities, according to Park Superintendent Tracie Ivey, who has been involved in growing this holiday event for each of the eight years she’s been at Deer Lick Park.
First up is the Jingle Jog, beginning at 1:30 p.m. The 1.5 mile run is free with a new, unwrapped toy to be donated to Toys for Tots.
From 2 to 6 p.m., an exciting new winter time addition will make its way to Deer Lick Park for the afternoon. The snow slide, Snow Mountain, will make its first run at the park on Saturday. The cost for an arm band is $5, which allows participants to slide down the slopes for unlimited trips, said Ivey.
At 3 p.m. inside the gym, there will be arts and crafts activities for the kids to make and take, including cupcake decorating and balloon animals. A disc jockey will be playing music throughout the day and lives bands will perform in the afternoon. A candy cane hunt will be held for different age groups beginning at 3:45 p.m.
At 4:45 p.m., Santa Claus will ride into Deer Lick Park on one of Douglas County’s Fire Department trucks to visit with children. Parents are welcome to take photos to commemorate the Santa visit.
At 6 p.m., a beautiful, large tree along the lake will be the focal point of the tree lighting at the county park for the second year. A small scene on the lake’s island will be lighted at the same time.
Up until this year, the county has held a Christmas tree lighting at Deer Lick Park’s annual holiday festival and a Christmas tree lighting at the Douglas County Courthouse. This year, the county decided to combine the two traditions into one seasonal event.