AMERICUS, GA (WALB) - For more than 30 years, an Americus organization has spread holiday spirit to kids in need.
2016 is the third year American Legion Post 558 members have worked the "Christmas Joy" project without one of the masterminds behind it.
Arthur Cooper, one of the founders of the charity, passed away just over three years ago.
"He used to be our Santa Claus," said Willie Yarbrough, the post's Senior Vice Commander. "He'd be walking around with his suit on, going, 'Ho, ho, ho, ho.'"
Cooper and Yarbrough began the project in the early 1980s, aiming to keep kids from waking up on December 25 to nothing under the Christmas tree.
"I thought about how it would feel if I woke up and didn't have anything," said Yarbrough.
He and his daughter said "Christmas Joy" is still going strong. They donate one new toy and several used toys to each kid.
"As a little girl, my father would come get us the day before Christmas, and we'd come down here, me and my sisters, and we'd pack toys," said Jayne Yarbrough, Willie's daughter.
This year, they plan to include at least 150 children. The Division of Family and Children Services provides the group with a list of names, along with each child's wish list.
The "buddies" in the organization refurbish those used toys, but sometimes, that doesn't go quite as planned.
"That's the problem. We have a lot of guys who are supposed to be working, but they're in here playing with the toys!" said Yarbrough.
They group will distribute the toys on December 22 this year.
For Yarbrough, it's an important venture he's been tasked with continuing, to keep the legacy of his friend alive.
"We thought it was a program that was too important to let it go away, so I don't know who's in line next but I'm going to try to keep it going as long as I'm alive and healthy," he said.
The group will take monetary donations along with donations of toys or used bicycles. Their budget for buying new toys is typically between $1,500 and $2,000.
To donate, contact Yarbrough at (229) 942-5566.