Taylor County woman spends holidays giving back

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By: Ben Kaplan
December 26, 2016

PERRY, Fla. (WCTV) -- They say giving is more important than receiving. But seeing the pure joy on a child's face when you've provided them with toys, food and clothes during the holidays is a gift in itself.

One woman in Perry has seen that look a lot. Hundreds, if not thousands of times. And with her community behind her, she continues to make Christmas special for so many

This isn't the North Pole, although in Perry on this Saturday in December, the primary school is as close as it gets. Because Santa and a mouthful of goodies making dozens of kids speechless.

It's part of the Taylor County Christmas Program. The elves make it all happen, led by one in particular.

"To see a child dancing around in a brand new pair of shoes and what it means to that child, that's just, beyond words," Michele McLeod says.

Michele McLeod is the director of Taylor County United. With the help of local churches and organizations, they put on this amazing event.

"Michele actually started this whole idea many years ago, and almost really did it by herself for a while and then got other people involved, and she really has been the heart and soul of putting this together," Cornerstone Church pastor Ron Hagberg says.

It goes back more than 20 years when Michele taught art at the middle school. Aided by donations, she'd buy presents year around, then take some students to the primary school to hand them out to kids in need.

"As a child would come in to see Santa Claus and the gifts would be handed to the child as they sat on Santa’s lap, they had the opportunity at that point to open the gifts or take them home, the majority took them home. A lot of the students that I had didn't realize that was all a child was going to have," McLeod recalls.

Like Tracy Stanley's kids. A few years ago, her family hit a rough patch. She says she was amazed with what her kids received.

"I know for my children, they couldn't help the situation they were in. I don't even know how to describe it, it was just overwhelming, it's precious what they do," Stanley says.

This year, helping almost 40 families, each kid gets socks, shoes, underwear, pajamas, pants, a shirt and two wish toys.
Then, the family receives a giant food basket filled with two weeks of food.

"I just want to stress that this community really knows how to pull together to do the things that need to be done when people are truly in need," McLeod says.

Michele's parents always gave, her dad dressed up as the community Santa for almost 30 years.
She just wanted to follow in his footsteps. Now, so many others are following in hers.

Michele and Taylor County United also help feed Veterans in need during the year and provided aid to Steinhatchee during Hurricane Hermine.

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