By Bryan Davis
Daily Times Leader
It started out of Darlene Cox’s small Commerce Street business eight years ago.
Back then, Cox’s Secret Santa program for local kids was a small operation that involved snacks and candy for the children of West Point at Christmas.
Over the years it has evolved into something beyond the nutritionist’s wildest dreams.
“Last year was our best year ever,” Cox said on Wednesday morning. “We gave away 2,500 gifts to needy children in West Point.”
When Cox began the mission to provide needy children with Christmas presents, she got a positive response from the community. The first year she gave toys away, she collected about 50 from the community.
“Then the next year it was 100,” she said. “Then it was 150, and it has grown every year.”
The giveaway has grown so large that the event has become a mainstay at the city’s Marshall Park inside the Parks and Recreation office building. Cox says that last year over 500 children showed up, and they were able to leave with two or three really great toys for Christmas.
This year, sponsors like Cadance Bank and the local Wal-Mart store are helping Cox exceed her 2011 total in gifts.
“We’re going to have roughly 16 tables this year,” Cox said. Tables are set up inside of the Marshall Park building so that toys can be given out in an orderly fashion.
Cox says that there will be plenty of food for the families as well.
“My husband has a big grill, and he believes in everybody getting fed,” Cox said. “We are going to have real food, not just snacks.”
Cox says that participants will be pleasantly surprised by a number of guests who will be at the event.
She says members of West Point’s 223rd Engineer Battalion will be on hand to help, as well WACR 105.3 Disc Jockey Greg McMichael. Cox says that the kids are going to get a visit from Santa Claus as well.
“We’re expecting a big turnout this year,” Cox said.
Meanwhile, Cox will continue to walk the streets of West Point in her traditional Elf outfit, getting businesses to pledge gifts for local kids. Anyone wishing to donate a gift may call 662-654-6250. Cox asks that no monetary donations or gift cards be given.
The event will take place at Marshall Park on December 21 at 3 p.m.