HOLLYWOOD - Sick kids in the hospital have another week of Christmas this season because of a family, a community and, incongruously, a crime.
When the Lamberts returned to their Hollywood home on Christmas Eve after seeing the Festival of Lights, they were ready to celebrate the season. They unlocked the door, stepped into the living room where their Christmas tree stood and 7-year-old Preston stopped short.
"Where are all the presents?" he said. Gone. It didn't take Ashleigh and Chris Lambert long to discover someone had broken in through a window. The normally irrepressible Preston and 6-year-old Henry sat disheartened. It wasn't just the gifts for them.
"That was our presents to Mommy and Daddy, too," Henry said.
"They stole Christmas and a fair amount of other items," Ashleigh Lambert said.
Charleston County Deputy Sheriff Angel Torres responded to the call. The longer he spent at the home writing up the report, the more he looked over at the dejected faces of Preston and Henry. It tore at him.
"I was thinking, how low can a person be to steal gifts from under the Christmas tree? It's Christmas Eve, and how could children go without Christmas? I couldn't go my way with just a report and never see them again," he said. Torres didn't. He returned at 7 a.m. with gifts for the kids from the department coordinated through Toys for Tots.
Meanwhile, a family member who lives down the road saw the sheriff's car and stopped in after Torres left. At 2 a.m. on Christmas Day, the phone calls started coming, the emails, the Facebook posts. Family members stepped forward with extra gifts. Friends did. Friends of friends did. In the afternoon, a family Ashleigh Lambert knows from the children's school drove up with the pickup truck bed half full of wrapped presents.
Henry's and Preston's eyes "just got wider and wider," Ashleigh Lambert said. By evening, the living room was full of gifts - very cool gifts, Preston will tell you. And they were still coming - a computer game, radio-controlled trucks, a locomotive toy.
That evening, mom and dad sat down with the kids, asked what they thought they should do.
"Mom, we don't need all this stuff," Preston said, with Henry chiming in. Mom talked about the Hugs for Harper program that works through Happy Wheels to make sure a cart full of gifts makes the rounds each week to the children's beds at the Medical University of South Carolina. The boys decided to give away nearly 100 gifts to "people who don't have toys and don't feel good and are lonely in the room, so they'll be happy," Preston said.
Jackie Shealy, of the Happy Wheels program, caught her breath when she heard. The Happy Wheels cart distributes every Thursday all year long. On a busy week, some 80 to 100 toys will be handed out to kids who are just waiting for something to feel good about.
"It's a huge thing. A donation like this is just phenomenal for our program. It helps keep us running," Shealy said.
The family feels blessed, Ashleigh Lambert said.
"There's good on this earth, and we all get caught up in the bad stuff," she said. "For all of us, this has been a lesson on different levels."
Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744, @bopete on twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.
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