BERLIN — The notion that Christmas “tis the season to give from the heart” may be clichéd on some fronts, but not last Saturday when a group of about 40 volunteers provided a special holiday memory for 35 local kids.
Around 6:30 last Saturday morning, the children arrived in a bus at the Wal-Mart in Berlin after being dropped off by their parents at the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce building. Some of them were aware of what the morning held for them and some were not.
Upon entering the Wal-Mart, chaperones, each sporting red shirts and some even donning Santa hats, escorted the children on a $100 shopping spree throughout the store. After shopping, the gifts were wrapped by volunteers, while the kids moved to the store’s break room for refreshments, crafts, games and other activities as well as a visit from Santa Claus.
The United Christmas Spirit Campaign, organized by the Young Professionals Committee of the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, was the brainchild of Phillip Cheung of Gregory & Associates in Ocean City.
Cheung said the idea for the event originated from similar holiday campaigns he had been involved with in Salisbury through the Jaycees.
“I really like these kinds of projects because this helps put the spirit of the charity with a face. This was mostly word of mouth through the chamber’s Young Professionals Committee and we all reached out into the community and the businesses, and we were able to raise enough money to help 35 kids,” Cheung said.
The children, according to Cheung, ranged in ages from 4 to 12 years old and were from the Berlin, Ocean Pines and Ocean City area.
“There are a lot of parents who are too proud to ask for help, and we had some Secret Santas who told us, ‘I know this family or that family that has a need because mom or dad has lost a job and things have been tough,’” Cheung said. “A vast majority of the 35 kids were picked based on those types of information. We also received nominations from area churches as well and worked with Worcester GOLD, too.”
With the $100, some kids used it to buy larger items, such as a bike, while others spread it out with a number of smaller toys.
With the shopping, the only stipulation was each child had to purchase something for another family member with that allocation. One boy, for example, purchased a blender and some Aleve for his mother. Another bought a doll his younger sister.
“In many cases, we only had one child from a family of three or four kids who didn’t get to come as well as a mom and dad, so the chaperones expressed to them about sharing and the importance of that,” Cheung said.
The significance of giving was an underlying message throughout the entire morning. So much so that prior to boarding the bus to return to the chamber building and reunite with their parents Cheung offered a “teaching moment.”
As a past deacon with his Immanuel Baptist Church in Salisbury, faith is important in Cheung’s life and he had a message to share about the “gift of giving.”
After the shopping spree and the kids had time with Santa and their crafts, Cheung presented each child with a miniature flashlight to symbolize the bright star that shone the night Jesus was born. He had the kids circle around him, point their illuminated flashlight on the floors and then present them to the volunteers who made the event possible.
“This whole morning was a gift from local businesses and all the people that are around you today,” Cheung told the children. “As a gift to us from God, Jesus was born. We have a gift here with our light and who can see the light if we shine it here at my feet. Just us, right? Everybody standing outside the group cannot, they are shrouded in the darkness. So today my gift to you is the gift of light, and I want you to turn around and find somebody outside the circle and hand them your flashlight. I want you to gift your flashlight to them. I gave you a gift and you turned around and gave that gift away. That’s the purpose of today. I want you guys to continue to think about that. When somebody gives you something, you should be thinking about the gift of life you could pass on.”
When the children returned to the chamber office to be reunited with their family, Cheung said the giving continued, as the children were surprised with a number of gifts from community businesses, including Dolle’s saltwater taffy, Old Pro Golf passes, Fisher’s popcorn, a Ravens team photo, Greene Turtle merchandise, a picture of former Stephen Decatur High School graduate and current Navy wrestler Danny Miller, PNC piggy banks, toothbrushes from Atlantic Dental, Delmarva Shorebirds hats and more.
“We tried to assemble a bunch of Ocean City experiences for the kids that they made not have experienced as well as some keepsakes to remind them to ‘dare to dream,’” Cheung said.
Sheriff Reggie Mason was on hand with two deputies and “Safety Pup” to provide security for the event.
“We wanted to help out any way we could. It’s a great program and I thought it was great the business people and community did this for the kids,” Mason said. “Many in our community are going through some bad times and there are a lot of people who need some help and this is just another example of the folks rallying for those who need a little assistance this holiday season. I love Christmas and I love seeing the kids with their smiles.”