MANNING - One Clarendon County family had a "Merry" Christmas thanks to the employees of the Clarendon County Detention Center. Since 1999, the folks at the CCDC have been giving gladly to those in the community who need a helping hand over the holidays.
"We're here in a hidden place," said CCDC director Shelton L. Hughes Jr., who has played a vital role in the luncheon for 19 years. "No one's concerned about what we do until they enter the rear doors or come in the front. We're here to do our part to give back to the community."
The center's employees and other county employees canvass the county seeking donations in order to help families around Christmas time. And, they've been quite successful in their efforts. Over the years, they've collected more than $60,000 to help families with children have a "Merry" Christmas, Hughes added.
When explaining the purpose for the luncheon to their guests, the CCDC's Gunnery Sgt. Gregory Beck read Romans 12:7-8: "If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift of showing kindness to others, do it gladly."
"We at the Clarendon County Detention Center are blessed to help," Beck told the more than two dozen luncheon guests. "We have the opportunity to help those who may be having it difficult at Christmas time. This luncheon helps bring out the joy, smiles and laughter, and we're honored to be a part of this."
Hughes recognized eight program volunteers for their help at the center: Rosa Fulton, Brenda Johnson, Teresa Osborne, Sharon Durden, Susan Tidwell, Deacon and Mrs. Harold D. Rumsey Jr. and Caroline Grant.
"We also need to give a special thanks to some people and businesses who helped out this year," he said. "We'd like to thank retired magistrate Charles M. Gavin, local attorney Steve McKenzie, Magistrate Shayne Stephens, Andrew C. English Jr., Magistrates June Briggs, Patrick Goodwin, James Dingle and Elease Fulton, Eddie Isaac and Prothro, Walmart, Shoney's, Santee Ford and Piggly Wiggly. They helped make today possible."
"I'd also like to acknowledge a few folks for their gift shopping and preparation efforts," Hughes added. "I guess you could call them our 'bag builders': Joella Henry, Cpl. Joy Mitchell, Kim Green and Lt. Cheryl Pendergrass."
Hughes also recognized the folks who raised the top fundraising producers. In first place was Pendergrass, followed by CCDC officer Damien Miller, county employee Dorothy Levy and CCDC nurse Catherine Strictland.
There were smiles all around as the children stepped up and accepted their "Big Bag," but biggest smile belonged to the youngest, Denver, 2. His bag was so large he had to have help just to get it back to his seat. The season of joy was evident when each of the youngsters cheered as the others walked up to accept their gifts.
Their mother, Cynthia Wilder, had tears in her eyes as she thanked Hughes and his staff and volunteers for the luncheon and gifts.
"Thank you. Thank you so much," Wilder said. "Now, they'll have something under the tree on Christmas morning."
"It's a blessing. It's a blessing," Hughes said after the luncheon. "It makes you feel so good to be able to help others. This just keeps getting better every year."