Christmas will be a little merrier for some deserving children in Liberty County thanks to the Liberty County Bikes for Christmas organization.
On Thursday, Dec. 6, volunteers with the non-profit organization were at the Liberty Walmart, filling the wish lists for 115 children recommended to receive assistance by their schools and teachers.
At an event on Dec. 15 at the Dayton Community Center, the children will receive the presents, visit with Santa, enjoy decorating Christmas cookies and be given food bags that will provide a holiday meal for their entire family.
Liberty County Bikes for Christmas began 15 years ago when one of the founders, David Milam of Milam Discount Tire in Liberty, had dozens of bikes left over from a tire promotion.
“Mike Koen (of Liberty County EMS) came into my store and asked me what I was planning to do with the extra bikes. I told him I didn’t know for sure, but I was probably going to give them away to kids in the community,” David recalled. “Mike said to me, ‘Why don’t we get together and give them to needy kids.’ And that’s how the organization began.”
Over the years, hundreds of deserving children in need have benefited from the organization. The giveaway has expanded to include other items the children need like new winter coats, gloves, hats and Bibles, to toys on their Christmas wish list.
“A lot of effort is put into buying items the kids want,”said Cassie Milam, wife of David. “We get lists from the kids and get things they really want. We aren’t just buying bulk things that are on clearance and then giving those things to the kids. They aren’t leftover, clearance toys. We really make an effort to give them the Christmas their parents can’t afford to give them this year.”
The goal is also to get the children active so game systems, cell phones and tablets are not allowed on the wish lists.
“I’ve always had the opinion ever since we started that we need to get kids out of the house and outside. They need to be active and doing something other than playing video games. Nowadays, that seems to be all the kids want to do,” David said.
Some parents of the children included in the giveaway really struggle to list their child’s interests in anything other than video games,Cassie added.
“We had to tell them we just don’t include those things,” she said.
All of the items are purchased at the Liberty Walmart, which provides deep discounts to the organization, the Milams said.
“It’s not just the shopping they provide. They have also made it easy for us to do the shopping,” said Cassie, adding that volunteers pick out the items, which are kept at the store until one of the organizers can stop by to pay for them. Then the items are stored in a special area in the Walmart storeroom until the day before the giveaway.
Walmart also donated around $2,000 to the organization this year, the Milams said.
Barry Jones, Walmart’s store manager, said he has participated in Liberty County Bikes for Christmas the last three years he has been at the Liberty store.
“It helps wonderful people who just can’t afford to provide Christmas for their children,” said Jones, adding that he hopes to be there to see the excitement on the faces of the children on Dec. 15 when they receive the items.
The entire ballroom of the Dayton Community Center will be used for the Dec. 15 giveaway. The front section will be set up as a Candy Cane Lane for cookie decorating and activities. Then children will enter another section where they will receive Bibles and winter clothes. Next will be photos with Santa and then the toys. After receiving the toys and food bags, they will be free to leave with their parents or guardians.
Around 35 cadets with Dayton High School’s Marine JROTC and dozens of other volunteers will be on hand to make the process as easy as possible for all participants.
As requests are still coming in – five more calls for assistance on Thursday alone – donations are always needed, the Milams said.
If you want to help provide Christmas for these children, go online to the organization’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/bikesforchristmas.org/Then click the link for “donate.” Donations can be made by credit card or PayPal.