Christmas gifts delivered

Classic Christmas song "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" trickled through speakers at the Catawba County Christmas Bureau distribution Monday in Hickory. With the help of hundreds of volunteers and generous donors, thousands of children in Catawba County will have that merry little Christmas made famous by the traditional tune.

The bureau's annual distribution days started Monday, with about 400 people coming to the event to receive toys, clothes, food and other gifts for their children.

"You see here the reality of what Christmas is all about," said five-year Christmas Bureau volunteer David N. Smith, of Conover. "Most people wouldn't be able to have a Christmas like this without (the bureau)."

The Christmas Bureau volunteers worked for months screening needy applicants and collecting gift items for their families. The months of hard work culminated Monday in the first of the bureau's two distribution days.

Approved applicants arrived at the American Legion Fairgrounds in Hickory and were given a ticket and a donated shopping cart to store all their gifts.

A banner displayed in the fairgrounds building read "Toyland" in bright, colorful letters, but attendees didn't need a sign to tell them toys were everywhere the eye could see.

Donated gift items for children ages birth to 12 years old lined the building walls, which were divided into groups with age-appropriate gifts.

"It's a big relief to get these presents," said Irea Lipford, of Hickory. "It's hard times."

Lipford picked out her children's gifts, which included a board game and sporting equipment. The gifts, Lipford said, are on her children's wish lists.

Just as Christmas Bureau recipients turned up at the gift distribution, so did many volunteers.

"We really do have a great turn out of volunteers," said Jennie Connor, Catawba County United Way executive director.

Catawba County schools were delayed Monday in light of icy road conditions, and the school delay also briefly delayed bureau recipients from arriving to the distribution at scheduled times.

Connor said some parents were worried if they missed their appointments they wouldn't be able to shop in the bureau's toy land. That wasn't the case.

Bureau volunteers accommodated every recipient, Connor said.

This year, there are fewer no-show recipients, which speaks to the tough economic situation many families face this Christmas.

The bureau itself also noticed the economy's affect on its donations this year, but Connor said volunteers and other donors came together to make things work.

"We're no different than what's happened around the country, but we realize that we have what we have, and everyone's trying to make it go," Connor said

Connor has been involved with the bureau for 10 years, and she said watching volunteers and recipients enjoy the toy distribution never gets old.

"It's great to walk around and look at the folks pick out two stuffed animals, they really take their time," Connor said. "You can tell then that it means a lot to them."

Eric McClure, of Newton, was a first-time volunteer at the bureau Monday. McClure, along with his grandmother and mother, volunteered at the event.

McClure said he enjoyed meeting everyone, and the event made him feel the holiday spirit.

"Do good things, and good things will happen to you," he said.