DOBSON — Santa’s sleigh will take the shape of a grey, corrugated, 48-foot trailer this year for some children in the Eastern part of the state whose families remain displaced due to Hurricane Matthew.
Toy and gift donations have been steadily piling up at the Country Café in Level Cross, where that sleigh is currently parked.
“We want to fill this trailer for these kids and teenagers and make them have a happy Christmas,” said Lisa Harris, who owns the cafe and organized a toy drive.
“There are still so many families in shelters and motels, and some of them are not working yet because they’re still rebuilding,” Harris said. “It just weighed heavy on my heart that I wanted to do something.”
Harris was born in Lumberton and has family ties to the hard-hit area. She reached out to the folks East Lumberton Baptist Church to find out how to help.
The church will assist with distributing the gifts, Harris said.
The toy drive – and massive delivery – came together locally with the help of Calvin Barneycastle, who provided the use of his trailer, and Chad and Don Odum, who volunteered to drive it to Lumberton on Dec. 9.
Harris posted a flyer and started getting the word out that donations of new, unwrapped toys, for ages from newborn to teens, will be accepted at the cafe through Dec. 8.
“I just felt like I wanted to do more giving than receiving this year,” she said. “I really don’t need much but these families do.”
The community has not failed to take care of those in need, according to Harris, who has been pleased with the number of toys filling up a storage area at the restaurant.
“I think they feel for these families,” she said. “They know how bad they got hit. That’s really made a difference.”
Hurricane Matthew, which reached North Carolina on Oct. 8, caused massive inland flooding that devastated Lumberton and surrounding Robeson County.
While relief efforts targeted the area in the weeks immediately following the storm, “the public has kind of forgotten us,” said Sharon Hunt, Lumberton assistant city manager and public information officer.
Hunt now spends her days working in a warehouse, overseeing the distribution of donated goods.
“Where we’re at right now is we still have quite a few folks that are still in the motels, probably several thousand are still displaced,” she said.
“Things are starting to get cleaned up, but the problem is still there,” she said. “The debris is getting removed but the real problem is where there’s no housing.”
Many of the homes in the worst-hit areas will be condemned, and public housing that was destroyed is a good six months from being up and running, Hunt said.
With shelters closed and motel vouchers expiring in January, she said, “I have no idea where those folks are going to go.”
Those who are placed in temporary housing are starting from scratch, said Hunt, noting that basic household items are needed along with toys for children.
“We just have a ton of kids in motels we’re hoping will have a bright Christmas, as bright as can be,” she said.
Harris said she will accept donations of essential items.
“If anybody is wanting to give, I’m not going to turn anything down,” she said. “We were trying to aim more for the toys; but some people have asked about diapers and clothes, and I told them whatever was on their heart they felt they wanted to give, I was going to take it.”
The restaurant owner said donations thus far have leaned toward younger children, so items suitable for teenagers are needed.
She suggested items like headphones, flavored lip balm, cologne or perfume, scarves or jewelry might make good gifts for the age group. She also is saving cash donations to purchase gifts to fill any gaps.
Donations will be accepted every day until 2 p.m. at Country Café, 5075 N.C. 268, at the intersection of Siloam Road.
Call Lisa Harris at 336-401-5902 for more information or for drop-offs after 2 p.m.
To contribute to Lumberton relief, contact Susan Hunt at 910-671-3805.
Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.