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Posted: December 31, 2008 5:00 a.m.

A Christmas miracle

Newton County rallies to fill Toys for Tots orders

Tisa Smart Washington/

Last minute donations of toys by the Salvation Army and individuals helped fill Toys for Tots orders in Newton County.

Although Lillian Bittaye, who runs the after-school program at the Covington Housing Authority, has been collecting toys to give to parents who can’t afford to purchase them, this year, she received an early Christmas present herself.

Thanks to many last minute donations, Bittaye was able to provide toys for 300 children this year.

"As of yesterday, we were short 240 toys and they (donors) went out and collected cash and bought more toys, and in addition to that, after I left here yesterday, I received a call from the Salvation Army saying that they had other donations they wanted to provide. So now we’ve been able to fill all the orders," said Bittaye.

Due to a decline in gift giving to the Toys for Tots’ national program this year, Bittaye realized earlier this week that she would not be able to help as many people as she had planned.

"We thought we would be able to serve about 800 families, but because their donations were running slow, they had to cut that down to half. And they donated about 400 toys, but they weren’t age appropriate for the number of children that we had, so that’s what caused us to still run short," said Bittaye.

But Bittaye decided she would keep working and prayed that something would work out. Something did. Last minute donations poured in, and now Bittaye, and her 15 volunteers, were able to give toys to all the families who had registered and even had extra for some who had not. The donations included pajamas, board games, footballs, dolls and action figures.

"I was still receiving calls after we cut off our registration just after Thanksgiving, and what I told a lot of those people was as long as we had something, we would continue to serve them. I couldn’t guarantee anything, but if they came to the building today, I would place them on a waiting list and fill those orders on a first-come, first-served basis," said Bittaye.

"The event was open to the Newton County community. The priority was starting here because this is where I run my program, but we also focused on the homeless shelter as another area that we were determined to serve."

Although volunteers from Oxford College, New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia and The Church in the Now in Conyers helped with the donations, Bittaye said her largest support came from residents who live in the housing authority.

"They have been committed and consistent for at least one week helping me to count the toys, bag them up, to do basically everything. They even did the decorations yesterday," said Bittaye.

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