By Vanesa Brashier, firstname.lastname@example.org
A week ago, the garage at Kevin Ward’s Kingwood home looked like an Amazon distribution center with wall-to-wall boxes of Christmas gifts that were purchased by anonymous donors from all around Liberty County and friends of Ward and his lifelong friend, Buba Crye, of Tarkington.
Ward and Crye, under the affiliation of their organization, Santa’s Not So Little Helpers, organized the donation of 562 toys to be distributed to more than 250 children who otherwise would not have had presents this year.
For the last nine years, the pair have come up with fun ways to help families in need at Christmas. This year, they took the fundraising online to Amazon.com, setting up a wish list of presents in various price ranges. The gifts were then purchased by anyone who wanted to help and were shipped to Ward’s home.
The presents have since been delivered to the parents. A couple of gifts were sent as far as Anaheim, Calif., but most were given to families within Liberty County and the surrounding area. While the families’ circumstances varied, they all were unable to provide Christmas this year because of low socioeconomic status, lost jobs, health issues or the loss of a parent.
“Nine years ago, Buba and I decided to help one family. It just grew from there,” Ward said. “We are just two guys who were trying to make a difference and it exploded.”
Creating the Amazon Wish List was a stroke of genius for two guys who hate shopping and leave Christmas purchases to their wives.
“One year we were so exhausted from buying gifts. This Amazon gift list has been a godsend,” he said.
The recipients of the gifts came from referrals from friends, attorneys, schools and churches. Children ages 2-13 was the target group for Santa’s Not So Little Helpers but Ward said that slightly younger and older children in a single family were included.
“Sometimes there are just families we know about,” he said. “Others we hear about like a family who lost their father in a car accident last Friday.”
Through the process of sharing information about the fundraiser on Facebook, a 32-year-old special needs man from Anaheim, Calif., reached out to Ward and Crye to get his wish list to Santa.
“In November, a special-needs adult named Jonathan was Googling ‘Santa Claus’ and found us. He thinks Santa is real, and he is because we are going to take care of Jonathan this year, too,” Ward said. “The Tarkington community has adopted him this Christmas.”
Some of the requests have been expensive, like a Nintendo switch or a game console, but most were reasonably priced items for less than $20.
“We ask that the kids give us suggestions for two things they want from Santa. We guaranteed they would receive at least one of those items,” Ward said. “We had a family from Spring Branch whose child asked for two $8 toys. One of the families that came in late was from Splendora. One of their children asked for a $3 toothbrush.”
Downplaying their involvement in the fundraiser and shifting the praise to their countless benefactors who bought the presents, Ward said he and Crye were simply the middle men for Santa.
“There is a lot of work that goes in. It’s not just me and Kevin,” Crye said. “We had help from Kelly Dunnavant and Delena Smith and many others. They believe in what we are doing.”
With the positive also came some negative, Crye said, when they were unable to fill the requests of some families.
“You are always going to have stuff that comes up like that,” Crye added. “We just did the best we could.”
This year’s fundraiser topped all previous years, both say.
“We never expected it to get to this point. At the end of the day, people hug your neck and you have to tell them, ‘It’s not from me, but from everyone.’ They get emotional and it just breaks your heart,” Ward said. “I know there are people who abuse the system of any charity but there were really good people who were helped for the first time in their lives this year.”