More than 110 children and their families received surprise holiday gifts on December 21 thanks to the generosity of anonymous donors and a joint effort between the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office and a Bynum resident.
The Sheriff’s Office, which hosts an annual “Sheriff Sleigh” gift delivery program, has teamed up with Lesley Dean Matthews, who runs an annual “Stuff-A-Stocking” toy drive. Their partnership has already brought joy and love to hundreds of children and families in Chatham County.
âI’m not a nonprofit,â says Matthews, who contacted the sheriff’s office during a community blood drive in November 2020. âI’m just a neighbor and a networker who believes in l help children and families in need. I wish someone took care of me when I was growing up – that’s why I do it. I want to be that person for someone else who needs it.
Hundreds of donors provided toys, clothing, gift cards and basic care supplies for the event. Others have stepped up to help transport supplies or spread the word. All items are transported to the sheriff’s office for sorting and distribution before Christmas. A special effort is made to provide the recipients with the gifts they wanted as well as the items they desperately needed, such as shoes, coats, backpacks or hygiene items.
In their first year of partnership, Lesley and the Sheriff’s Office more than doubled the previous number of gift recipients; in year two, they broke all previous donation records again.
âI couldn’t do what I do without the community of Bynum, the residents of Galloway Ridge and so many anonymous donors,â Matthews says of his Stuff-A-Stocking program. “I call them my ‘secret elves’ because they are the ones who work behind the scenes to make dreams come true.”
Matthews says she started her “Stuff-A-Stocking” program when her own daughter was 4 and has watched her grow up for the past 13 years. Meanwhile, she has partnered with other agencies, such as the Chatham County Social Services Department, to get names of families who may be in need while on vacation. Now the program has found a new home with the sheriff’s office.
âIt’s a magical experience to walk into work and see the walls lined with gifts,â said Lt. Sara Pack of the Sheriff’s Office. âEveryone is smiling and laughing, rushing with notepads or gifts and humming Christmas carols. It’s like the sheriff’s office is transformed into Santa’s workshop one day a year!
âMany of the recipients have been victims of crime, trauma or hardship over the past two years,â said Sheriff Mike Roberson. âWhile these gifts may not restore what they have lost, it sends a message to these children and their families that they are loved and seen and have the support of this community. It is an honor to share the excitement and experience all the emotions that come with making someone’s vacation wishes come true.
âI felt like an angel had walked into my office,â says Lora Rinaldi, the Sheriff’s Office Victim Services Coordinator, describing the first time she met Matthews. Rinaldi has led the project alongside Matthews for the past two years, reaching out to other agencies to collect names for children and families in need of a little more joy.
“When Lesley [Matthews] came to see us for the first time in 2020, she wanted to know more about the work we do in the sheriff’s office and how she could help. By the time we finished speaking, we had a plan – everything fell into place, âsays Rinaldi. âChatham County has such an incredible ‘pay it forward’ mentality. The community is so generous and helpful, and the families who received the gifts were incredibly grateful. It means so much to so many people.
For families who have not been able to travel to collect their gifts, the Sheriff’s Sleigh program can coordinate the transportation or delivery of the toys to the gift recipients. Roberson said he hoped to continue to grow the program in the years to come with the help of more residents.
âWe can only be successful as a community by uniting and caring for each other,â he said. âAt times like these, we don’t want to see any family without it. If they can’t come to us, we’ll go to them. What is important is a reminder that there is still hope and goodness in the world, and especially here in Chatham.