Most people think that Santa Claus comes only on Christmas Eve but in Butts County, Santa has already been busy and his workshops can be found in places you wouldn’t expect. This year, Sheriff Gary Long, his staff and their families as well as several of the inmates of the detention center are helping to make sure that Santa gets around to some of the neediest children in the community. This morning, I got to visit one of Santa’s workshops and what I saw was impressive.
The Sheriff’s Office has “adopted” 33 needy families in Butts County with a total of 88 children involved. The youngest is only 3 months and the oldest child is 16. In addition to small gifts, each child between 3 and 12 will receive a new bike, totaling 64 bicycles. Children younger than 3 will receive a push car and older boys will receive a basketball goal. Older girls are receiving handheld tablets. Much of this will have to be assembled by hand and that is what was going on when I visited Santa’s newest workshop.
In an unused section of the Butts County Detention Center, one could hear the sounds of clanging tools, hissing air hoses and laughter mixing in a festive atmosphere as a veritable assembly line turned out one bicycle after another. Bikes for both boys and girls, of various colors and sizes, stood lined up against the wall in one room while in a larger room, more bikes, assembled and ready to go had been placed in rows according to type. A group of county inmates were assembling more of them, putting the parts in place, tightening down bolts and topping off the tires with air before moving them into position with the others.
“The inmates have really enjoyed doing this” remarked Captain Stewart Cawthon, who oversees the detention section of the Sheriff’s Office and who had led me to the assembly area. “I think they’ve been about as excited as the children are going to be”.
“It’s been incredible” said Sheriff Long earlier this morning. “We’ve gotten great support, both from the people in the Sheriff’s Office as well as from the community who have contributed funds to help make this possible”.
To help raise funds above what the office could do, the Sheriff’s Office put out jars at convenience stores, talked to area groups and churches and to individuals interested in being part of the effort. When sufficient funds were raised to get the project started, the Sheriff’s Office swung into action, sourcing locations where bicycles in large quantities could be obtained and at a good price. Once located, members of the department drove about two hours to a warehouse to pick up the unassembled bikes for transport back to Butts County.
Since then, in addition to their regular duties around the detention center, the inmates who are part of the Sheriff’s Inmate Work Force have unboxed several dozen bikes and begun the process of assemblage, fitting wheels onto frames, adding the seats and handlebars, adjusting the pedals and pumping up the tires. Each bike is then inspected by staff of the jail to make sure everything is perfect and ready to go to Santa Claus.
The Sheriff’s Office took lots of requests from needy families, who were vetted by members of the department to make sure the need was genuine. Some of what they have seen has been painful because the needs are always greater than the resources. “It’s sad when you ask a child what they want for Christmas and the answer is a pair of shoes or a warm coat” said Sheriff Long. It isn’t always about what most children want; sometimes what they want is just basic comforts that we take for granted”.
The Sheriff’s Office plans to continue doing what they can between now and Christmas, even with resources stretched thin. They will continue to take donations to help and want people to know that if they are willing to help, they can be assured it will go towards making a little better Christmas for a needy child in Butts County. “We appreciate every little bit, which helps a lot” added Sheriff Long.
According to Amanda Mac, who assists Sheriff Long, the greatest need now is small gifts for children up to 2 years old and the 10 and up range. “The 3-9 year old range of toys is good” she added “and cash donations are still very much welcome”.
Those wishing to donate to the “Sheriff’s Cause for Santa Claus” can place new and unwrapped toys in donation boxes located at the Butts County Administration Building or the Butts County Sheriff’s Office. Cash donations can be placed in any of the donation jars around the county or can be brought to the Sheriff’s Office Monday-Friday from 8AM to 5PM.
Let’s help make a difference!