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INDIAN LAND – “Thank you, Santa,” said Jeremy Ashe, after watching his three children open their stockings from the man in the big red suit on Christmas Eve.
The Ashes were one of nearly 20 Indian Land families visited by Santa in his annual ride with members of the Pleasant Valley and Indian Land fire departments.
Ashe’s family is like many in the area who have had a challenging year in the tough economy and needed a little extra help with Christmas.
Teresa Ashe said her husband had been out of work since September, but got a new job just this month. One paycheck just wasn’t enough to cover bills and provide gifts for three kids, she said.
Margaret Smith knows how they feel.
She lost her job of 13 years last week when Linens ’n Things shut down its stores nationwide.
Her two sons were excited that Santa decided to stop by their house early.
The fire departments have delivered gifts to local families for the past 17 years. Local congregations at Pleasant Valley Baptist Church and Belair and Osceola United Methodist churches collected gifts for 43 children this year.
Pleasant Hill United Methodist Church provided boxes of canned vegetables, flour, sugar and other staples for each family. 521 BBQ also provided a smoked turkey for each family.
The local Bojangles’ and Vintage Autos donated money and Express Auto Rental provided a truck to transport the gifts on the Christmas Eve ride.
“This is a community-wide project to help out the community,” said Keith Wilson, who helps organize the yearly drive.
The delivery is sponsored by the Boy Scout Explorer Post, which is a hands-on learning program for 15- to 21-year-olds at the Pleasant Valley Volunteer Fire Department.
Members include James Bennett, Cody Whiteside, Reid Whiteside, Blake Helms and Josh Honeycutt.
Wilson and his wife, Susan, spend hours interviewing the families recommended by the local schools to determine who needs or wants help and preparing the route for the firetrucks.
Besides delivering gifts and needed food and toiletries, the departments also replace batteries or install smoke detectors in all the homes they visit.
For the firefighters who spend most of their Christmas Eve delivering the gifts, it’s an annual tradition.
”It’s all about the kids,” said Capt. Stephen Blackwelder of the Pleasant Valley Fire Department.