Almost 2,000 people turned out Saturday for free giveaways aimed at making Christmas a little brighter for families facing difficult times in the Chattahoochee Valley.
At least 680 free bicycles were given away during Chester Jackson’s Third Annual Bicycle Giveaway at East Coast Body Shop at 933-A Farr Road, Columbus. Assorted toys and 156 bicycles were given away to 1,100 children at the Columbus Civic Center during Davis Broadcasting Inc.’s Annual Needy Children’s Christmas Party.
Jackson said lines started at 5 a.m. for the 9 a.m. to noon event. By 11 a.m., he realized there were more children than available bicycles in a crowd that stretch for more than a city block.
“It is a dream come true,” Jackson said. “When you talk about a dream come true, there are 680 plus smiles out here to say that it’s just about the child.”
Although he didn’t have enough new or repaired bicycles for every child, Jackson said he’s committed to fulfill their dream.
“For the ones that are in line and we do have bikes that are yet to be put together, I’m going to accommodate as many people as possible,” he said. “We will take their names and in turn come back and get a bike later. We want to fulfill our dream.”
Larry Horton was all smiles after his son Trayvon, 9, rode away on a bike. “It is all for the kids man,” he said. “It’s just getting out and having a good time out here. We’ve been out here ever since 7:30. a.m.”
Teisha Smith praised the efforts of Jackson for giving free bikes to children. “Bikes are expensive,” said Smith who found bikes for her two children ages 4 and 5. “I’m glad they were giving them away for free. He is the only one who has enough for everybody. Everybody is trying to do the bike stuff and they really don’t have enough for the children that come out here.”
At the Civic Center, shouts of joy rang out when Jamelle Pratt’s name was called for a free bike. Pratt said thieves broke into her Eagle Trace apartment in Columbus and took her son’s XBox video game and other items on Thursday.
“I’m so thankful that nobody was physically hurt,” Pratt said. “Possessions can be replaced but if they broke in there while I was there, I would probably be in the news.”
Pratt said her 11-year-old son T.J. is autistic and the game was used as a reward when he does well in school. She also has a daughter Jariel, a ninth-grader at Jordan High School.
“This is good for them because they have lost so much,” the mother said.
During a difficult year, Cynthia Patrick and her three sons left the Civic Center with a new bike, a football and a Superman toy. “I’m very thankful,” said Patrick of Mount Olive . “God has been blessing me. A whole bunch of organizations have been helping me and this is one of them.”
In addition to the toys, children were given free coupons to get a McDonald’s happy meal after the party, said Cheryl Davis, wife of Davis Broadcasting Inc. chief executive officer Gregory Davis.
With some layoffs in the area, Davis said many people needed help this year. “It was a crowd that really needed to win a bike or needed some toys,” she said.