Volunteers give cheer

Troy Cansler wasn’t going to miss the Catawba County Christmas Bureau this year for anything — even if that meant risking his health.

Cansler, who has volunteered at the Bureau for five years, has cancer.

“I had a doctor take me off chemo four weeks ago just so I could be here,” Cansler said. “I wouldn’t be here doing it if I didn’t want to. I love it and I really enjoy just helping people out.”

Cansler is one of the many volunteers who make the Bureau go.

This year, the Christmas charity will help hundreds of less fortunate residents fill their children’s stockings and line their trees with presents.

Qualifying parents throughout the county visit the Bureau each year to pick up toys, clothes and bicycles for their children.

Charitable organizations, churches, schools, police, firemen and area residents all donate for the annual cause that will serve about 1,500 residents by the time the event ends today at 5 p.m.

This year is no different, and families lined up on Monday at the American Legion Fairgrounds in Hickory to participate.

It could not function without volunteer support, said Joel L. Reece, a Bureau volunteer who has dedicated his time to the event the past eight years.

“It’s the best thing I do every year,” Reece said.

Reece helped set up the decorations, presents and other donations at the fairgrounds last week in preparation for the event.

On Monday, more than 40 volunteers dressed in red, white and green helped escort and assist hundreds of parents as they gathered presents for their children. Reece said the Bureau is set up to assist 20 parents every 15 minutes.

Parents’ reactions make it all worthwhile, he said.

“They are very grateful for the opportunity that is provided to them,” he said. “They have smiles on their faces and it’s going to be a good day for them. They can leave here with Christmas in their hands to deliver to their families.”

Area firemen, police officers and church organizations also volunteer their time at the Bureau. Members of the Hickory Fire Department, for example, helped distribute new bicycles for children on Monday provided by the fire department and Steve White Motors on U.S. 70 in Hickory.

The bicycles were given away through a live drawing. After each parent collected presents for their family, they lined up and stuck their hand into a box. Those who picked out a red ticket received a free bicycle.

Cheers and joyful screams echoed throughout the Legion building each time a red ticket was drawn and a bicycle was won. Families danced and jumped around, hugging their volunteer and uttering a phrase repeated throughout the Bureau — “thank you.”

Volunteers also helped make and give stockings this year.

As sort of an “extra” to the normal presents available, volunteers helped fill stockings for Bureau families. Ernie Warren, who has volunteered for two years, said volunteers have been making stockings for a week.

“They really enjoy the stockings,” Warren said. “The stockings are actually one of their favorites because it’s something new.”

The Catawba County Christmas Bureau charity continues today at the American Legion Fairgrounds in Hickory from 9 a.m. to noon and 1-5 p.m.