Despite the sleet and rain on the morning of Dec. 20, hundreds lined up outside of the Knightdale clubhouse and pool to sort through an abundance of clothing, food and books just in time for Christmas.
Knightdale Community Helpers, headed by Billy Neal, joined forces with students from Knightdale High School and post-graduate sorority Chi Rho Omega, a chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alha Sorority, Inc. for their fifth annual distributions that take place during the weeks of Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Needy residents from all over Eastern Wake County showed up, packing out the parking lot and waiting patiently in the rain, seeking shelter under umbrellas, trash bags or even a laundry basket.
Tracy Kent has come for the past few years and finds the stash of books, food, toys and clothing to be essential for the holidays.
“Now I’ll be able to cook and have a few gifts for the grandkids,” she said.
Neal said he expected 350-400 families to attend the event, staffed by about 20 volunteers, although the same families who attended the Thanksgiving drive at Knightdale High School last month could not double up on winter coats.
The Christmas event has grown 60 percent since it started five years ago, said Neal, who took over as president of the 15-year-old organization eight years ago.
“People really need help,” he said. “And they’re right under our nose.”
He cited a lot of grandparents and relatives caring for children who don’t have enough resources.
One of his commonly cited motivations: “Every child should have a warm pair of pjs and a book,” he said.
Neal, who was raised as one of seven children, said his parents raised him to serve others as a way to pay it forward even though his family “didn’t have anything but love.”
Kristin Olson, a Knightdale High senior said she gave up sports practice to show up for the three-hour event. Junior Crystal Villines helped Olson hand out women’s coats and said they’ve helped out before as part of community service for their Health Occupations Students of America club.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Villines said.
BriAnna Walker is the global poverty leader for the Chi Rho Omega sorority, which has worked alongside Community Helpers for almost four years. Helping hand out socks to the steady stream of attendees, she said that the event was a great way to connect with area residents.
“This helps us get a better sense of what we need and how we can help,” she said.
Neal said he’s already planning for next year’s events, starting with teddy bear collections for their handout during the Thanksgiving parade.