West Point’s Secret Santa is calling it quits.
It is a most regretful decision for Darlene Cox, who has walked countless miles of West Point streets for the past eight years, collecting Christmas gifts for the needy children of this community.
Already documented is the fact that Cox’s December 21, 2012 Secret Santa giveaway at Marshall Park turned to chaos, as gifts designated for three specific needy families were grabbed up by the unruly crowd.
“They have hurt our hearts,” Cox said on Monday morning, declaring that she will not longer organize a gift giveaway for the community. “I’m hanging up my elf outfit.”
On Monday, Cox gave more details regarding the events of the pre-Christmas event.
In the past, the giveaway has involved as many as 400 to 500 people, who were fed adequately and last year, everyone walked away with multiple gifts.
The press coverage prior to the event in 2012 backfired, however, drawing hundreds of more people from neighboring towns.
Cox says that people from Macon and other out-of-county communities were showing up, and she admittedly did not have a staff of volunteers large enough to regulate the crowd that grew to an estimated 800 people.
Cox says that event started off with a prayer and food and ended in “greed” and “chaos.”
“The parents were telling the children to just take the gifts from the stage, and the children just started grabbing presents,” Cox said.
Cox is recovering from injuries sustained in a car accident in early December, which left her virtually immobile and helpless to stop the gift grabbing.
“I asked the children, ‘why are you doing this’ and they just kept taking gifts,” Cox said. “They didn’t care about me.”
Gifts that were set aside for three families that had lost their possessions, which included clothes and household essentials, were all nabbed during the chaotic melee.
As more details emerge from the December 22 giveaway, events that have transpired in the weeks following continue to weigh heavy on Cox’s heart.
One day after the Daily Times Leader published an article about the debacle that took place just before Christmas, Cox began receiving threats over the phone from different people.
Since that time, she says she has hardly left her home, except when she has been accompanied by her husband, Major.
“I have never been afraid in this town,” Cox said. “When my husband brought me here years ago, I thought I had come to a nice community. People are calling me up telling me they’re going to do something to me.”
Cox and her husband “Major” decided to personally replace four bicycles that had been purchased for specific children, but were taken by others at the event.
After giving the four bikes away, Cox immediately began receiving calls from people in the surrounding area who were wondering when they would be receiving bikes for their children.
“They started spreading it around town that we were supposed to be giving bikes to everyone,” Cox said. “I have the receipts that show we spent $400 after the other bikes were stolen to replace those bikes. We are not millionaires. I am not supposed to be giving bikes away to everyone.”
The gesture to make sure that the original four children designated for the bikes received those gifts has once again brought unnecessary heartache to the Cox household.
Once a couple which would give at the drop of a hat, Cox says her and her husband have had no choice but to be skeptical of everyone.
“We have frozen up,” Cox said. “Before this, when people asked us to give, we did it without question. I didn’t know it would come to this, over some toys.”
Hours before ringing in the New Year, Cox was still busy on the phone collecting gifts for the three families that were deprived of the items bought for them two weeks ago.
She’s documenting everything with pictures and receipts because she continues to be bombarded with accusations regarding the stolen items.
Cox also says that she has not mentioned race once regarding the event.
“There were people of all colors there,” she said. “This is not about race. There wasn’t just once color of people there doing this.”
Cox is looking ahead with plans to discontinue the Secret Santa event, but that does little for her faith in humanity.
“I pray for the next generation,” Cox said. “I pray that we do not instill this into the children’s hearts. I pray this does not happen again.”