Dec. 1—Barbies, books, basketballs and "Benjamins" (as in $100 bills) are playing major roles in this week's schedule for a variety of volunteers in Aiken, with collection and processing underway for the Salvation Army Angel Tree and Marine Corps League's Toys for Tots programs.
Plans are for the two charity campaigns, working in harmony, to help provide a substantial Christmas boost for kids spread among Aiken, Barnwell, Edgefield and Allendale counties. A warehouse near Aiken is the center of activity, and the husband-and-wife team of Capt. Randull Tiller and Capt. April Tiller, both with the Salvation Army, is in the thick of the action, also working with the Angel Tree outreach, a child-sponsorship program.
"The deal is, we know that Aiken is a super-generous community," Randull said. "They've always come out whenever they know we have a need. We've been working diligently and we have seen people come out to drop off toys and come out to get Angels, but really not at the rate that we need to meet our goal."
Joel Williams, with Marine Corps League Detachment 939, made similar comments while sorting through hundreds of books in the warehouse Wednesday afternoon. "Next week, we'll have a lot more toys. We start picking up boxes ... but volume is not what we think it should be. Donations are obviously down this year, because ... of no particular one factor, I guess, except inflation, but we're trying to get through this and see where we are."
He expressed particular appreciation for the family of fellow Marine Corps League member Greg Allen — a substantial part of Wednesday afternoon's volunteer crew in the warehouse.
"This is a labor of love for most of the people at 939," Williams added. "We've got more people coming in from that every day. It's all about service to the community and the people that need some help. We enjoy it and we're going to do it, and it's ... not about any particular individual, but the needy — just that we get it done."
The cutoff date for donations, he said, is Dec. 13. "Then we're going to sort for about a week and then distribute them on the 20th and 21st."
The Tillers pointed out that financial donations can be particularly helpful in terms of dealing with family calamities in the thick of the Christmas season. "An emergency is an emergency," Randull said.
Among the darker moments of December 2021 was the death, due to COVID-19, of a local woman with nine children. Those kids, in turn, wound up in the custody of their maternal grandfather who was overwhelmed. Cash donations enabled the Salvation Army to respond with three minivans loaded with food and Christmas gifts to help the family through its huge challenge.
"What happened last year was kind of crazy," April confirmed. Her organization's local base of operations is at 322 Gayle Ave. N.W., near Aiken High School, and details on this year's efforts are available at 803-641-4141.