Charity and festivity were in the air Friday night, as hundreds of Forsyth County residents braved wind and frigid temperatures for a chance to play Santa for the evening, giving more than a thousand toys and gifts at Lily’s fifth Annual Night of Glitter and Gifts.
“I can already tell just by the vibe here tonight that this is going to be the best year we have had yet,” said Jennifer Anderson, founder of Lily’s Annual Night of Glitter and Gifts, the largest toy charity for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
Every year on Dec. 15, the night that young Lily Anderson passed away from cancer, the Anderson family and many families and volunteers meet at Vickery Village in Cumming to celebrate the life Lily lived and collect toy donations that will be given to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta patients year-round. Volunteers sort and sticker the toys with a label memorializing Lily, pack them onto Anderson’s husband’s 16-foot box truck and deliver them to the hospital to be distributed throughout its different locations.
“[The truck’s] not gonna be big enough we already realized,” Joey Anderson said, laughing as he looked from the growing pile of toys to the long, white box truck.
“We never have to set a goal for the night in mind, because we know how this community comes together to honor (Lily) and my family,” he said. “So, we don’t even need a goal, we already know we have surpassed the goal even before we start.”
Anderson explains that the charity was started the year after Lily died in order to transform grief into a positive force and help remember what Lily lived for.
“We wanted to make what is the darkest day of our life one of the happiest by giving back to a place where we lived for three and a half years,” she said.
“It’s really just surreal for my husband and I both because we did what we were supposed to do as parents and never realized the impact she was making here ... It’s amazing to see what she has done.”
One donor, Mike Smaracko, said that he and his family have continued to donate to the charity year after year because it represents the people of Forsyth and the type of community it is.
“This represents Lily, and it represents something very special for the community,” Smaracko said at the event Friday.
“That’s why you see a thousand people here tonight, because the community comes together for our community.”
Smaracko and his wife have brought their young grandchildren, Landon and Madison Thompson, to the event each year, hoping that the youngsters will learn from Lily’s memory and the community’s action.
“It’s just great. I mean just look at all of that,” he said, pointing to the long row of toy boxes, ready to be loaded onto the Anderson’s truck.
“This is all from the heart. This is all about the spirit of Christmas, and Lily isn’t here to celebrate, so we are going to celebrate for her.”
Smaracko stated that his family would be involved with the charity for as long as they are Forsyth County residents.
Upon hearing Smaracko’s promise and praise, Lysa Gazza said that she’s not surprised.
“Of course we are going to do this for Lily. This is the greatest community ever and there’s nothing that these people wouldn’t do for each other,” Gazza said.
Gazza, a close friend to Jennifer Anderson and her family, has been a part of Lily’s Annual Night of Glitter and Gifts and Lily’s Run from the beginning, and said that if she has learned anything from the experience, it’s to be grateful.
“It’s a great feeling living in a community like this,” she said. “You make one phone call and if you need anything, it happens. It blows us away every year.”
According to Beth Buursema, director of foundation and external affairs at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, the night netted CHOA 1,111 toys and four bikes.
“It was incredible. We could barely shut the doors on the truck,” Buursema said, explaining that the majority of the toys will go to the nearly 600 children who will be patients at one of CHOA’s three locations this Christmas.
“This will bring so much joy to these families, and we are so grateful,” Buursema said.