By Sarah Campbell
SALISBURY — Jeffrey Stanton pulled a Santa Claus on Friday, delivering dozens of toys to Rowan Helping Ministries.
Like Santa, Jeffrey, 14, expects nothing in return for his good deed.
But unlike Santa, Jeffrey delivers toys to boys and girls in need year-round through his charity, Jeffrey’s Toy Closet.
The Salisbury boy began collecting toys to donate about six years ago when he realized one of his classmates didn’t receive any presents for Christmas.
Since then he’s given out more than 16,000 toys.
This year, he decided to fill a toy chest at Rowan Helping Ministries.
The Rowan Rotary Club donated wooden chests to the shelter in 2004. Since then, club members have been working to keep them stocked throughout the year.
Rotary member Catrelia Hunter, who chairs the committee that coordinates the toy chest, said Jeffrey’s contribution is much appreciated.
“This is going to be extremely helpful because the need is so great,” she said. “What Jeffrey is doing is going to help supplement and push us over the edge.”
Hunter said this is the first time a young person has donated to the toy chests.
“That’s what makes it so exciting,” she said. “It’s just so special that he is doing this for people his own age.”
Kyna Foster, executive director of Rowan Helping Ministries, said the toys have been a hit for children and parents alike.
The toy chests are kept in the interview rooms where new families meet with case workers.
“It really helps keep the children occupied while the parents tell their story,” Foster said. “It’s so critical for the kids to have something to do because the situation is stressful already. This helps make the experience better for everyone.”
But toys aren’t the only things Jeffrey brought to the shelter Friday. He also delivered nearly 400 pounds of canned goods.
Foster said she’s constantly impressed by kids like Jeffrey who are willing to give their time and energy to collect food for the shelter.
“Many parents use the experience of donating food through Rowan Helping Ministries to expose children to the importance of giving back to the community, which is just great,” she said.
Jeffrey collected both the toys and food during a race at Charlotte Motor Speedway last weekend. Attendees received $5 off admission for donating a new toy or canned good.
Born with autism, Jeffrey has used his passion for racing to break out of his shell.
Now, he doesn’t just watch other drivers, he actually participates, thanks to a number of sponsors.
His mother, Debbie, said Jeffrey understands the importance of giving back, because the community has given so much to him.
At 18 months old, Jeffrey’s father, Mark, had a near-death experience while working in construction. He ended up spending four months in the intensive care unit.
During that time, Debbie was also undergoing chemo-therapy for ovarian cancer and battling lupus.
Escalating medical bills meant no presents, until Bob and Elizabeth Dole arrived at their home to bring Christmas to Jeffrey.
“We know firsthand what it’s like to struggle,” Debbie said. “And we know what it’s like to be on the receiving end.”
Jeffrey said he can’t even describe how it makes him feel when he sees the kids’ faces as he delivers toys. So, he keeps it simple.
“It’s just so awesome,” he said.
Jeffrey’s Toy Closet will also be donating to the Salvation Army Angel Tree, Partners In Learning and more local nonprofits this holiday season. Donations can be dropped off at the NAPA Auto Parts in Rockwell. You can visit jeffreystoycloset.webs.com to learn more.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.
By Sarah Campbell