Santa's Southern Headquarters
Buddy Cox & His Helpers Send Holiday Joy From Pumpkintown
THE "COUNTRY SANTA" PHOTO GALLERY
Buddy Cox with volunteers
Refurbished bikes for distribution
Article & Photos by Laura P. Stokes
Running on sugar cookies and faith in Christmas miracles, Buddy Cox, known as "Country Santa" in the upstate, delivers visions of sugarplums to 2,000 children who otherwise would wake up to heartbreak on Christmas morning. Pumpkintown’s "North Pole" lies at the end of a country road in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Letters addressed simply "Country Santa, South Carolina" strangely make it to Cox’s mailbox. While he delivers sacks of goodies mostly to children in the upstate, every year he receives letters from across the state and the country that are too heart-wrenching to turn away.
The program is making a difference in ways Cox never envisioned. A teen-age volunteer was so devoted to Country Santa that when she died from cancer, she had all her stuffed animals donated to the program. The aunt of a 4-month-old girl who died sent Country Santa the money she would have spent on her niece’s first Christmas. A multitude of volunteers, like Santa’s elves, help de-liver hefty bags filled with toys on Christmas Eve. They bring a ray of hope into the lives of families who struggle just to put food on the table.
"To me, it’s not necessarily the toys we give," Cox said. "I think it’s that we try to let these families know there are people out here who care about them. The whole purpose is to take the hurt away from people."
For the past 20 years, Cox has closed up his business in wastewater sales and engineering to commit 12-hour days to making the magic of Christmas come alive.
It all started with a kindergarten girl named Mary Ann. Cox learned that the only present she received for Christmas was an old tattered doll, and it broke his heart. The next Christmas he picked out a big boxed doll—the expensive kind that is kept on the top of department store shelves—and personally delivered it with some other goodies to Mary Ann.
"She was so excited somebody cared," Cox said. He was introduced to that warm, fuzzy feeling that comes with giving. Country Santa was born.
As the program grew, deliveries were taken over by volunteer elves. Like Cox, they’ve learned that the best gift isn’t what they bring in their sacks; it’s the fact that they are there for the children.
Cox observes that the situations they experience are the kind that can change you and make you feel differently about what charity ought to be. Somehow, he said, each time they see a need they don’t think they possibly can fill, the miracle happens. Like the little girl whose only wish was for a life-size Barbie. Too expensive, Cox thought—he could never give what she was asking. Later that day, what should show up in a delivery of donations but a life-size Barbie!
There was the teen-age boy who asked for a certain kind of jacket the other kids wore so he could fit in. Too expensive, Cox thought again. But a teen volunteer heard the story and observed he had one of the jackets he would be willing to give up. It was the perfect size.
One of his sweetest memories is of the big, burly, red-headed man in a flannel shirt who showed up one Christmas Eve to deliver toys with his young son. With his voice cracking, he thanked Cox for delivering items to his own house the previous year when times were tough. He was there to bring someone else the joy and hope that had been brought to him. Cox knew it was difficult for the man to admit his hardship, and that touched him.
"It’s hard, bone-crunching work," Cox said. "Then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, a magical moment drops into your lap. To me, those are the precious times. Those are the battery chargers that recharge me; it’s not the plaques on the wall."
The story of Country Santa inspired a Charleston woman, Cindy Chubb, to start a similar program in her area several years ago. Initially, she collected the toys in Charleston to be distributed to children in the upstate. But after Cox received a plea from some of the charities in Charleston for local help, he asked Chubb to do her own distribution at home. Last year she helped about 150 children in the Charleston area with a program, which continues to grow.
Despite all he gives to the program, Cox is quick to point out that Country Santa is not Buddy Cox. It is the hundreds of elves and those who donate the toys. Without them, there would be no joy spreading.
Above all is the note that goes in every bag: "With love from Jesus and Country Santa."
As Cox says, he’s not in this alone.
Laura P. Stokes is a writer in Greenville and one of Country Santa's "elves."
For information about the Country Santa project, phone (864) 878-2045.
ARTICLE AND PHOTOS FUNDED IN PART BY:
* Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative
* Hillcrest Cemetery
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