If you’ve visited a County building lately, it’s easy to see that employees are feeling festive. Like most places this time of year, our holiday spirit has taken the form of garland and festive lights.

But what you might not see is the way the holiday spirit shapes our involvement in the community – working with our partners to make sure our clients have an extra special holiday, volunteering with local nonprofits, and even collecting items to donate. County employees give “gifts” like this every day, but here is one of the stories behind the gift.

Code Enforcement employees are making the holidays a little brighter for children in the Carolinas. Like many others, they’re collecting new, unwrapped toys for Toys for Tots – but here’s why they’re doing it.

Mecklenburg County employees collect gifts for Toys for Tots.

Mecklenburg County employees collect gifts for Toys for Tots.

Ward Harris, a LUESA code official, is a Marine Corps Veteran who served in active duty from 1981-1985. He participates in veteran organizations like the American Legion and the Marine Corps League. And, while he wouldn’t admit it, he organized the Toys for Tots donations for the past three years. Harris said, “I actually keep the boxes on site all year round, we have a place, so when it’s time we can pull them out right after Thanksgiving and put them out.”

Since Harris doesn’t like to consider himself the organizer, he calls himself the delivery guy. “Once you give people the opportunity to do something like this it kind of takes off on its own and you don’t have to do anything. Once the boxes are out people take over and the toys just appear,” he explains.

There are six donation boxes in the building on Suttle Ave. and several of them are already filled with toys – one of the most noticeable, a brand-new bike. Sophia Hollingsworth, a LUESA customer service supervisor, said watching the donations come in “does her heart good.”

Stephanie Prioleau, a LUESA senior fiscal analyst, said she purchased gifts for a boy and a girl. She bought a toy humvee, fire truck, tablet and jewelry making kit. She wanted to buy fun items, but also something she thought the children could use. Prioleau said, “I intentionally made sure there was something educational behind it. Children love to play with toys, but I also wanted them to learn something from the toys.”

The toy drive ended on Dec. 15, which is when Harris took the toys to the distribution center. Before then, anyone was able to drop off a new toy to add to the donation box, even LUESA building visitors. Stephanie Prioleau thinks this small act of kindness can make a big difference for many. “Whatever you give, be it your time or a gift, just give it totally from your heart.”