Workers at the Wake County Eastern Regional Center tend to cross their fingers this time of year, hoping they’ve collected enough gifts to go around at their annual Christmas event for families in eastern Wake County and beyond.
“We really do,” said ERC Executive Assistant Evangela Turnage Batts. “Sometimes we’ll run out of gifts for one age group and will have to pull from up or down a group on gifts.”
That wasn’t necessary Thursday, when a steady wave of visitors showed up despite a band of strong weather sweeping across the area. Those near the front of the line entered a room filled with more than 400 gifts – plenty enough to send everyone on their way with something.
The center’s staff and Community Advisory Committee put on the event with help from area businesses, churches, organizations and individuals. Organizers use fliers, social media and word of mouth throughout eastern Wake towns to solicit donations and invite families to come.
“Churches, the CAC and the mom-and-pop businesses are really the driving force behind it,” Batts said. “The partnerships and the community really keep it going by helping out with donations, and each year the donors change.”
The event is more than just a gift giveaway. It is a place where area families can go to see Santa Claus closer to home, and over the past 12 years it has become a regular affair for some.
“This is one of the few chances people out here in the east even have to meet Santa,” Batts said. “They use this as their opportunity to take family pictures with Santa and create a tradition. And it’s the first opportunity to see Santa ever for a lot of these kids.”
On Thursday, 5-year-old Briany Pichardo Torres was one of those first-timers.
(Santa’s) so nice because he always gives presents to everyone.
Briany Pichardo Torres, 5
She peered through the doorway in anticipation of her chance to meet the man in red, telling those around her she was ready to give him a big hug.
Briany was partially star-struck once the moment had passed, but she did profess her appreciation of Santa’s boots and red hat.
“He’s so nice because he always gives presents to everyone,” she said.
Batts wants to create more of those types of results for the Christmas event going forward.
She said she has opened conversation with Walgreens, and wants to get other large, local companies like GlaxoSmithKline and Nomaco on the list of supporters.
She’ll start reaching out again next October in hopes of another positive response from the community.
“We never know what we’ll end up with,” Batts said. “We just kind of pray the need is met.”