Wright On! Santa Project Succeeds Again
By Deborah Salomon
On Christmas morning, Santa arrived via two or three wheels for several hundred Sandhills children waiting in the Bo's Food Store parking lot.
Santa, of course, is Earl Wright of the Santa Project. For 15 years, Wright and "Mrs. Claus" (Sharon Thompson, the backbone of the project, according to Wright) have collected, repaired and distributed bikes for children accompanied by an adult, no questions asked.
This year, however, Wright feared a lump of coal in the stocking. Donations were down.
"We have 380 bikes so far," he told The Pilot Dec. 17. "Last year we had 427, and our goal this season is 500."
Tarsha Miles wasn't worried.
"The way Earl works, I knew there would be plenty," she said after selecting a tricycle for her 2-year-old son, Dionatae Douglas.
Thanks to last-minute publicity in The Pilot, the total reached 405.
"I wish we'd gotten them sooner," Wright said on Saturday, Christmas Day. "I've still got 75 at home that the elves were fixing in the cold."
Four bikes were being delivered to families who lacked any means of transportation by volunteer Ann Petersen.
"I love this man," Petersen said, hugging Wright.
Bikes weren't the only gifts. The Pinehurst Fire Department donated new helmets. Taylor Memorial Church in Jackson Springs brought 40 jackets and coats.
"We want every child who needs a warm coat to get one," said volunteer Ashley Reynolds.
A table was covered with hundreds of children's books provided by the Moore County Literacy Council and Moore County Homebuilders Association.
"We were here last year to help with the bikes and saw a great opportunity to get books out," said Literacy Council Director Susan Sherard.
Sunny Sidley of Lobelia collected and served cookies from local merchants. She got involved when she rescued a bike from a garbage pile and brought it to Wright.
Sidley and her husband subsequently collected dozens more.
Though a snowstorm was on the way, the weather on Saturday was an improvement over the cold rain of Christmas 2009. Children and parents had more time to browse for the right wheels. Wright had voiced concern about having enough bikes for small children. But Princess Gatewood, 5, of Southern Pines, found a pink-and-purple one that matched her puffy new jacket.
"This was the best year for collecting bikes," said Bill Smith of Bill Smith Ford-Mazda, the event sponsor.
The quality of donated bikes has improved, Smith said. The selection of sizes and styles was good, and his goal of having a suitable bike for every child was met.
"We're fortunate to live in such a giving community," Smith said.
Contact Deborah Salomon at firstname.lastname@example.org
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