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Secret Santa, News 5 viewers rescue struggling toy drive in Green

Posted at 6:18 PM, Dec 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-08 18:18:24-05

GREEN, Ohio — An annual toy drive that was struggling to provide enough gifts for more than 200 children in need experienced its own Christmas miracle thanks to generous News 5 viewers and a secret Santa.

"It's kind of overwhelming when you realize what has happened," said Pat Stiles, the chairman of Green Good Neighbors.

On Tuesday, the organization continued a decades-old tradition-- with a new twist-- as volunteers delivered bags of toys to families who waited in their cars outside of Greensburg United Methodist Church.

In past years, families walked into the church to collect gifts, but social distancing guidelines amid the pandemic changed the routine.

Just weeks ago, there were serious doubts as to whether the annual toy drive would have enough games, dolls and stuffed animals for all of the 240 children on the list.

About 130 red tags, which contained the wish lists of children from the Green, Coventry, Manchester and Springfield School Districts, were unclaimed.

On October 29, News 5 spoke to Stiles and the co-chair of GGN, Albert Veri. Both women said the family adoption numbers were down drastically because attendance at area churches dropped significantly, and as a result, fewer people were signing up to sponsor kids.

"We are searching for other ways to find people that will take a child and buy some gifts," Stiles said in October.

But shortly after the story aired, something magical happened. More than 30 people-- many from outside of the Summit County area-- called GGN and offered to adopt the unclaimed families.

"People really stepped up once your program was on. They stepped up and my telephone started ringing," Stiles said.

Stiles, who was stunned by the huge response, said the willingness to help out during a time when many people are hurting was touching.

"I can't say enough about how wonderful the audience is."

The generosity didn't end there. Several other people and companies offered cash and gift card donations.

Stiles was floored after a man from Hudson called to make sizable donation. He didn't want to adopt a specific family, but wrote a check for $5,000. Stiles knows his identity, but he has requested to remain a secret Santa.

"He just asked not to publish his name and I just think that's wonderful," Stiles said.

His contribution helped GGN buy gifts for the remaining children and buy pizza and target gift cards for all 87 families.

Susan Neptune, who stopped by to pick up gifts for her three grandchildren, wasn't surprised by the outpouring of support considering how the community supported her family during their personal tragedy.

"My daughter's husband died six years ago and he was 24, and the community came together. They had fundraisers," Neptune said.

Christina Benedum, who also received gifts, said she will tell her three children that it's not about getting gifts, but about being grateful for what you have.

"We're all like iffy about talking to people and we're trying to stay away from people, but it's bringing everybody back together. It's bringing the holiday spirit back," Benedum said.

With all of the bad news 2020 has delivered, Stiles will remember the end of the year as the time when many people rallied to make the holidays brighter for kids.

"We said this is going to turn out to be the best year because people just stepped up."