More than 30 children, their foster parents and eight members of the Hinesville Rotary Club gathered Thursday for their annual gift-giving event, casually known as their Bobby Brown Christmas Party.
Club President Jeff Ricketson said the party was named after a former member, Bobby Brown, who came up with the idea about 20 years ago, and the tradition has been carried on since.
The names, ages and genders of the 64 children in foster care coordinated through the Liberty and Long Division of Family and Children Services were randomly assigned to the 43 Rotarians, who spent $25 on each child. Some members even took on an extra child, Ricketson said.
“When I first came to town, I started doing this and I thought of it as just another present to buy,” he said. “But then I realized this gives me the chance to think of what an 8-year-old boy would want … to revisit being an 8-year-old boy again.”
About eight Liberty County High School Interact club members helped with the event, and they sang Christmas carols while the children ate free Happy Meals provided by local McDonald’s owner Gary Dodd, a Rotary member.
Afterward, the volunteers greeted the children and delivered presents labeled with their names.
Pamela Glover, who fosters three young children along with her husband, Dean, watched as the children received their wrapped presents for the second year in a row.
“When I told them we were coming to the Christmas party, they were like ‘Yes!’” Glover said.
While his older brother told him to wait to open his presents, one of Glover’s young foster children ripped through the paper to find a colorful toy helicopter with a spinning propeller.
But the other packages will be placed under the tree until it’s time to open them, Glover said.
“They’re happy,” she said, recalling last Christmas with the children. “It’s all smiles, all teeth — they’re playing with their toys and sitting on their bikes.”
Other children oohed and awed over the packages placed before them as the Rotarians joined the Interact members in singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
DFACS Director Debbie Bennett thanked the Rotarians and Interact volunteers who made the program possible and expressed that the community has offered the children great support.
Reflecting on the event, the Rotarians said the experience was heartwarming.
“People thanked us tonight, but really, the pleasure was all ours,” Sergeant-at-Arms Marcus Sack said.
“It’s just a warm feeling all in your heart,” Tom Jackson said.
Mark Evans said seeing the children react with glee is more gratifying than just making a donation. “You see it in their face, too – especially the real young ones.”