Secret Santa program makes sure county children have Christmas

Santa Claus is an undercover operative - but instead of dealing in espionage, the jolly old elf is spreading Christmas cheer clandestinely through Barnwell County's Secret Santa program.

Secret Santa is a program handled by the Rotary Club of Barnwell County to make sure county children have some presents to unwrap this Christmas.

The county office of the Department of Social Services provide first names only of unprivileged children in the area that individuals, civic and church groups and the Rotary Club sponsor by buying them items from each child's Christmas wish list.

The parents and legal guardians of the children sign up for Secret Santa through the DSS office, which screens the applicants.

This year, there were 496 children signed up to benefit from the Secret Santa program. Wal-Mart gave $2,000 toward the program and other businesses contributed as well. Rotary District 7770, which includes Barnwell County, also gave a $1,250 district simplified grant for the program too, said Rotary president Jason Stapleton.

"A lot of individuals and businesses sponsor children and give donations to buy gifts for them. This is our signature event - it's our biggest event. Every Rotarian participated," Stapleton said.

About $30,000 in gifts were distributed between Dec. 17-19, he said.

The gifts were collected, processed and claimed at a new site this year, at an old auto parts store owned by Sport Holland, who runs Sport's convenience store.

In past years the Secret Santa program operated out of the old, vacant Rite-Aid drug store building on Dunbarton Boulevard.

However, that building is  now being used as the thrift store, the Pick of the Litter Shoppe, by the Animal Advocates. Money raised by the thrift store pays for the group's no-cost/low-cost spay and neuter program.

Stapleton said he is grateful for Holland in providing a space for the Secret Santa program.