Staff helps pass out presents at last year’s Santa Workshop drive-through event at the Boys and Girls Club of Bluffton. SUBMITTED

The need to put a smile on a kid’s face during the holiday season is greater than ever this year. As adults have struggled to stay above water during a worldwide pandemic, their children have absorbed a lot of that stress and anxiety and often need the pick-me-up all the more.

The Boys and Girls Club of Bluffton is there every day to provide that mentoring and the space to learn and have fun for so many young ones in the community. Now, for the 23rd consecutive year, they are once again setting out to make sure every Bluffton child has a Christmas to remember.

The celebration usually happens with a big party in the club’s gymnasium, the culmination of months of gathering donations from angels around the Lowcountry. Now, for the second straight year, the club will be passing out gifts to as many kids through their Santa’s Workshop drive-through event on Dec. 17 from 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the club’s 100 H.E. McCracken Circle location.

“We’ve been doing this as long as the club has been in existence and we’ve just had to adjust and adapt a little bit for the kids,” said BGCB program director Jaala Miller. “We are just always amazed with the outpouring of the community, and we need y’all more than ever this year. One thing I can say, in all my years here, this town always comes through. We can never stop asking though, as long as there are kids in need.”

Also for the second straight year, the event will be open to everyone in the community, not just members of the club. Last year’s Workshop passed out close to 750 presents to kids ages 6-18 and the parents who drove them to the club.

“We’ve been blessed with the support of the community and we want to share this blessing with as many as we can,” said Kristen McGuire, club director of resource and development. “Our club has gone through hard times, our staff has gone through hard times, but we find a way to persevere and make it all about celebrating our youth.”

The club has half the staff it did in 2019 and has been slowly building its membership numbers back up as families feel comfortable bringing their kids back into group environments. McGuire and Miller said executive director “Miss Molly” Hornbeak and the team are gradually bringing more team members back to serve a wait list that has ballooned to 500 kids and families.

“It’s amazing to be part of this every day, to see our staff give so selflessness just out of love and admiration of these kids,” Miller said, a sentiment echoed by McGuire and social recreation director Gene King, another long-time booster of kids in the community in his time with the county recreation program and BGCB.

“These kids, they’re amazing. This is just a labor of love. It’s pressure packed because we want to deliver for these kids, but it’s also the best time of the year for so many of us,” King said.

The needs are plentiful leading up to this year’s Santa’s Workshop. The club needs donations of logistical items such as artificial Christmas trees, Christmas-themed inflatables, tablecloths, storage bins and wreaths and bows. When it comes to gifts, all three staffers said that even though it’s not the sexiest present, a gift card is actually the best donation they receive.

“We know it’s fun to buy those toys for the younger kids, but we also have so many teenagers that are often left out of the giving because somehow we think Christmas isn’t for them,” Miller said. “The gift cards to Wal-Mart or Target, that gives the families and the kids the chance to pick out their own gift or what they need in the moment.”

That said, any unopened toy gift is thoroughly appreciated. The staff said the best way to donate gift cards is by mailing them to P.O. Box 1908, Bluffton, SC 29910 or by dropping them off at the club. Toy donations can be dropped off at the club or at boxes at several Bluffton businesses: Southern Barrel Brewing Company, Palmetto State Bank, Tommy Hilfiger, Marshall’s, Tio’s of Bluffton, Tanger Outlet Service Center, Corner Perk, Regions Bank Bluffton, CPM and Gap Outlet.

The Club is also in pursuit of angel donors to donate to entire families. McGuire and Miller said that so far, close to 20 angels have signed up to buy specific wish list items for each member of a family.

“We’ll keep filling those needs right up until the last second, as long as we have angels stepping up. We have kids who have lost family to COVID, kids showing up with shoes more worn down than usual. We do this all anonymously, just trying to identify the families that need an extra special boost,” Miller said. “We know too many families are deciding whether to pay the light bill or provide Christmas for their kids, and we want to get rid of that impossible decision.”      

The Club is trying to maintain programs and at the same time service an ever-growing community that has 9,000 kids entered in public and private schools. All that while having to turn away many volunteers during the COVID pandemic.

“We are slowly opening back up to volunteers. We had more than 300 amazing volunteers pre-COVID that are all itching to get back in the club and help out and we’re always looking for new folks looking to mentor our kids,” King said. The club is holding a Bluffton Built Gala at Palmetto Bluff in February to highlight the growing needs of BGCB and help build back their donor and volunteer base.

For King, the Santa’s Workshop is a yearly reliving of his childhood, as he watched his Dad dress up as Santa at the community center.

“I always wondered why he did it as a kid, but now, as an adult, I know and I’m so proud of him and proud to be part of this effort,” King said. “It gives me chills just thinking of the looks of joy on all these kids’ faces.”

For more information on how or where to donate a gift for Santa’s Workshop, visit bgcbluffton.org or call the club at 843-757-2845.

Tim Wood is a veteran journalist based in Bluffton. Contact him at timwood@blufftonsun.com.