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Thumbs Up! - Dec. 26, 2012

The toys collected by Marines for Toys for Tots have by now found their new homes. Through the great effort of many, children in Albany and nine additional counties will have something to smile about on Christmas morning. Individuals, schools, church groups and others dug deep to make sure the smiles would happen. When all was said and done, a total of 15,000 brand new toys are currently waiting to meet their new children.

Employees of the Albany-Dougherty 911 Dispatch Center collected something besides telephone calls this month. Just before school dismissed for the much-anticipated Christmas break, more than 30 students at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School were surprised with gifts of socks, hats and gloves. Whatever Santa brings that needs to be played with outside, these kids can now do so comfortably.

When a 10-year-old boy says he wants to be in the Army when he grows up, who are we to say differently? Khalil Quarles of Baltimore is one such boy. The youngster is fascinated with the idea of Army life, even as he suffers from terminal cancer and spends much of his time in a hospital. With the help of technology and the willingness of Albany-born Maj. Norland James, 3rd Army, Central Command, deployed in Kuwait, Khalil got quite an early Christmas gift. The duo was able to connect by computer and talk face-to-face. Thrilling as that was, James wanted to do more for the young patriot. Advised to step outside, Khalil was met in his front yard by at least 25 military and civilian personnel. The young man was given a certificate of appreciation for his support of the military and a special induction ceremony by a two-star general, as well as a ride in an armored Humvee. A miracle could see Khalil grow into adulthood, but if not, he can already say, "I'm in the Army now."

Kmart was an even busier place than usual leading up to Christmas. Personnel from the Dougherty County Sheriff's Department took 19 of 30 beneficiaries on the office's annual "Shop with a Sheriff" trip. The children were allowed to purchase gifts for themselves as well as family members, a first for most. As if that were not enough, the group was treated to lunch at Tokyo Japanese Steakhouse and Sushi Bar. Sheriff Kevin Sproul asked the group if any had visited such a restaurant before — none had and were thus introduced to something else previously unknown .

A day after the sheriff was in town, about 30 volunteers from the Albany Police Department met up with more than 100 additional eager children to do the same thing ... shop. Sponsored by the Albany Fraternal Order of Police and Kmart, toyland was filled with grinning faces. "Shop with a Cop" is all about the children, but there were a lot of happy adults on hand, too.

Ask anyone at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, dating back from 1962 up to today, about the "real" Santa, and they can (and will) tell you: "Santa Joe is real, and he comes twice each year loaded with gifts for all the boys and girls." That is indeed a fact. Joe Farris has completed his 102nd trip to the hospital now and has no plans to stop traveling to Memphis. One of Santa Joe's biggest local supporters is Deerfield-Windsor School. The lower campus holds its annual Christmas program, at which time the children present their offerings for the hospital. This year the kids contributed 350 gifts.

Stories like these, and there are thousands and thousands more, are what the spirit of the season is all about. Here's wishing you all a very Merry Christmas!