Children of Project Santa Make Wishes
Four Southern Pines children want the same thing, though each child is very different in personality and interests.
Eight-year-old Janiecia Grim brims with energy, which she channels into writing her own songs. Her 15-year-old easygoing cousin, Malik Thompson, lives for shooting hoops with friends. Deanne Riley, 10, is a quiet girl whose eyes light up when she talks about reading. The youngest is toothy-grinned Evan Porter, 6, who wants to learn to ride a bike soon.
What these children have in common is a hope to find a bicycle at Bo’s Food Store on Christmas morning.
Project Santa distributes free bikes, both used and new, from the Bo’s parking lot to children who might not otherwise receive a gift at all.
Last year, not every child who wanted a bike received one. Grim was one of those children. She waited in line at Bo’s with her mother for hours, and as time passed and the bikes dwindled, Grim says her mother realized they were not going to get a bike and headed home.
She is confident she will get one this year and already had her eye on one when she and the three other children met recently to talk about Project Santa.
On the front lawn of Project Santa headquarters, where all the donated bikes are repaired and cleaned, Grim sits atop a pink adult-sized bicycle. The bike is too big for her; Thompson holds it steady for her because her legs don’t reach the ground.
“I like this bike. It’s pink,” she says in a sing-song voice that leads her to break into one of the tunes she wrote.
Though Thompson got a bike from Project Santa last year, he will be back in line this Christmas. He is returning because he wants to share bikes with his friends.
“All my friends want to ride my bike,” Thompson says. “If I get another one, we’ll have one more to ride.”
He and his friends often cycle around their Southern Pines neighborhood on South Mechanic Street. Thompson also rides the bike to the basketball courts on Broad Street, a three-mile round trip he used to walk. It is a luxury he appreciates.
“I get to ride home from playing basketball,” he says, “and it’s faster than walking.”
Because he is so bashful, Porter has trouble communicating why he wants a bicycle. It is the first-grader’s eyes that say it best. When Sharon Council, the “Mrs. Claus” and co-organizer of Project Santa, helps Porter onto a bike, his brown eyes twinkle with delight.
Council has been with Project Santa since Earl Wright, the Saint Nick of the charity, started it 17 years ago. That was when he decided to set aside the toys he found left behind at empty homes he cleaned and to give them to children.
He drove his black and gold Dodge pickup from home to home, delivering the toys to children on Christmas morning.
Over the years, Wright began focusing on collecting bikes. He chose bikes because he remembers yearning for, and never receiving, one when he was a child growing up in the same neighborhood Thompson rides his bike today.
In the last few years, Project Santa has begun accepting donations of toys and books. Riley is one child who hopes more for new books than for a bike.
“A bike would be OK,” she says, “but I really want a book.”
A book component has been added to the project, so donations of children’s books are being accepted as well.
As the Santa figure of Project Santa, Wright is accustomed to receiving attention, though he avoids it when he can.
“I don’t do it for me or the parents,” Wright says. “I do it for the kids. It’s just about the kids.”
For more information, call Wright at (910) 639-9506 or Council at (910) 639-4048.
Melanie Coughlin is a local freelance writer.
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