Columbus’ Terry Hildebrand, dressed in full Santa regalia Saturday morning and introducing himself as Kris Kringle, guided a sleigh pulled by two horses into a family’s driveway.
A sleepy-eyed youngster standing in the doorway watched in wonder. Never mind that Mother Nature provided a steady rain instead of snow.
“It’s Santa and his sleigh!” the boy exclaimed.
Hildebrand was among 300 volunteer drivers making the annual delivery of toys and food baskets through the Columbus Firemen’s Cheer Fund to struggling area families.
“People were running outside to the street when they heard us coming with the sleigh bells,” Hildebrand said, his Santa spectacles sliding perfectly down his nose.
But Christmas came to more than just the 1,218 children who received four new toys each plus three gently used ones and more. It also arrived in the form of 216 food boxes with a ham and holiday trimmings for people such as 73-year-old Pat Percifield.
She beamed when volunteer Randy Hampton delivered the goodies to her place at Booth Manor Apartments.
“It means more to me than I can express,” said Percifield, on disability since 1996 and still fighting health issues. “This is a reminder to me that there still are people in this world willing to do for others.”
Then, she grew misty-eyed. She apologized as she recalled late daughter Pam Percifield Pecord, who regularly helped underprivileged children in Madison.
“Christmas was her favorite time of year,” Percifield said.
It’s a favorite time for Mike Wilson, too. He’s co-chairman of the Cheer Fund who pronounced the four hours of deliveries a success. They originated from a new location this year — a storage area of the Doug Otto Center.
The new space allowed volunteers to load nine vehicles at once instead of the four maximum last year.
Plus, it will allow firefighters to begin collecting toys anew right after Christmas, in case generous families have leftovers.
“If people have new or gently used toys they can’t use,” he said, “we’d be happy to begin to store them for next year’s drive.”