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Holidays come early for some local families

A woman sat in a wheelchair Saturday morning, in the corner

of a building where families were getting free clothes and toys,

and cried.

Joy Hodges, one of the volunteers at the event, rushed over and asked if she was all right.

The woman explained they were tears of joy.

“She said, ‘I can’t believe this,’” Hodges recalled. “‘The kids weren’t going to have a Christmas, and now they’re going to have more than they need.’ ”

Not all emotions were as visible or profound as that throughout the day, but the several hundred people who attended the giveaway at American Legion Post 320 in Spotsylvania County walked out with arms full—and maybe hearts, too.

They were able to fill as many 55-gallon bags as they anted with clothes, which were available in sizes from infant to teen, as well as toys, shoes and books.

The event was sponsored by Just A Hand, a nonprofit started by Spotsylvania resident Lynn Morgan in 2009.

She does much of the legwork for the charity. She collects clothes and other items from people who don’t need them and often goes to parking lots to pick up bags and boxes.

That’s where she also distributes goods, such as newborn sleepers and blankets to pregnant women who are in desperate need.

Morgan estimated there were about 45,000 items spread over tables in the American Post building on Saturday. That figure included 1,300 books and 700 pairs of shoes—even some ruby slippers similar to those Dorothy wore in “The Wizard of Oz.”

There were hundreds of handmade hats, gloves and sweaters—courtesy of the From The Heart knitting group in Spotsylvania.

Morgan didn’t just give a ballpark figure about how many baby-size jeans or jackets, strollers or car seats she offered.

She handled each one as she washed clothes to make them as presentable as possible and put together mismatched toys to look like new.

“I get to be Mrs. Claus,” Morgan said, smiling as she photographed the families around her. “They call me the Mrs. Claus of misfit toys.”

Morgan started collecting items for others after she helped a family in need. She said she couldn’t change their lives, but she could “lend a hand.”

Since that day, her “Just A Hand” charity has become practically a full-time occupation.

Before Saturday’s giveaway, she visited social workers and church representatives, asking them to give tickets to the neediest among them. The 250 people with tickets were able to shop first, then the American Legion building was opened to the public.

In the first two hours, the charity helped 290 children, Morgan said.

Shoppers were assisted by the same volunteers who help with the project throughout the year.

Hodges is a member of the Fredericksburg Mothers of Multiples club and regularly passes on clothing from her group.

Judy Lawrence, “the thrift-store queen,” brings the bargains she finds, such as a high chair for $15.

Workers from Lakewood Animal Hospital in Locust Grove, a drop-off point for items, helped shoppers find the right sizes.

Fifteen members of the Young Marines from Quantico Marine Corps Base helped shoppers carry off the jumbo bags of goods.

“I’ve very appreciative,” said Kaiana During of Fredericksburg as she picked up items for her 3-year-old son and the baby boy who is due next month. “I’m doing the best I can and basically take advantage of things like this in the community.”

Like the woman in the wheelchair, Ashley Hall of Bumpass wasn’t sure how she would provide Christmas for her three children, ages 4 and under.

“I don’t know what we would have done,” she said, as she picked through baby clothes. “Money is really tight this year.”

Morgan said that during the first giveaway, a few families got a little greedy, but that no longer was the case. Instead, volunteers had to encourage parents to take what they needed—to get gloves and a hat to go with coats, for example.

“If we have it, you can take it,” Morgan said.

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

cdyson@freelancestar.com

HOW TO HELP

Lynn Morgan’s house is often filled, from floor to ceiling, with items she collects for her charity, Just A Hand. She gives clothes, toys and other items to needy families in Spotsylvania and Stafford counties, as well as Fredericksburg. She’d like to expand into Caroline and Orange counties, but said storage space is limited.

She’s in desperate need of a warehouse.

More information about her charity is available at justahand.org, on Facebook or by calling 540/424-7812.

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