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Record crowd turns out for annual Christmas distribution

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Bicycle shortage another sign of economic downturn

By Laura Lewis, Reporter

SHALLOTTE—Vehicles jammed the street as a line of people waited to receive food and toys at Brunswick Family Assistance’s annual Christmas distribution Dec. 17.

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It looked like a record turnout, BFA board member Locke Newlin observed as about 25 BFA volunteers bustled about assisting people and handing out food and toys.

Last year, the nonprofit aided about 400 families, including 900 children.

BFA program manager Linda Turner ascertained the crowd was at an all-time high.

“It’s pushing 500 families,” she said, adding that includes “a lot more children” on this year’s roster of families who qualified for assistance.

This year, BFA received donations of just 10 bicycles, traditionally one of its most-requested items.

“We used to get 50 to 100,” Turner said, noting it’s another sign of the depressed economy since not as many people can afford to go out and buy bicycles to donate to the cause.

“I probably had 300 requests for bicycles,” Turner said. “We tried to discourage that because we knew we weren’t going to get that many. We don’t buy bicycles. We can’t afford to buy bicycles.”

One alternative involved used bicycles that were donated such as those by the Brierwood community, which also donates food as well as clothing for BFA’s thrift store.

Donations of toys overall was brighter.

“We got lots from Toys for Tots—all those toys come to us now,” Turner said of the Marine Corps League’s annual program of which BFA has been a recipient for the past two years.

Turner credited other communities for their annual contributions, including St. James Plantation, which adopts four families and buys them gift cards for food; Ocean Ridge, whose residents buy gifts for 75-100 children and Sea Trail, which donated money and other items, including canned food from a men’s golf drive.

Sign-up for the annual distribution began Oct. 1 for families that qualify. About 40 BFA volunteers started preparing for the Dec. 16 distribution to senior residents and the Dec. 17 food and toy distribution to families on Dec. 3, working from early morning until late at night for two weeks.

“It takes a long time to do this,” BFA volunteer Peggy Esau said as she handed out some of the 300 available frozen turkeys.

“One person didn’t want a turkey,” Esau said. “She gave it back because she said she had a turkey at home.”

Supply residents Michael and Jill McKeighan stopped by the distribution center, set up in the old Mirror Lite building on Smith Avenue, to get food and toys for their six children.

“I work, but he can’t find work,” Jill said of her husband, a construction worker who secured one of the used bicycles to the roof of their car.

She said their children range in age from 5 months to 10 years old.

“This actually is our third time with BFA,” she said.

The distribution helps “tremendously,” she said, especially with toys for their kids.

BFA executive director Joe Cannon, dressed in a Santa suit as he directed people into the building, said the community has been very generous this year.

BFA received $90,000 worth of toys and gifts and $2,000 worth of food—enough for a holiday dinner per family.

“It’s just an impressive number,” Cannon said.

The seniors’ biggest wish-list request this year was for electric blankets.

“That was on almost everybody’s list,” he said.

The nonprofit also raised the $40,000 it needed, plus an additional $30,000 that will help carry them into next year.

“The demand is still up,” Cannon said. “We don’t want to call off the dogs yet."