Holiday gift: Area family enjoys delivering Toys for Tots on Christmas Day

Longtime Toys for Tots volunteer Katheryn Brennan (right) instills the same spirit in daughters Shaina (left), 16, and Shannon, 14, as they help other volunteers load nearly 6,000 new toys at Blackbaud on Dec. 15.

Each year, Katheryn Brennan and her family spend Christmas morning as they always do, only they are not cozied up around the tree opening presents.

Instead, Brennan, her husband and daughters hit the streets at the crack of dawn to deliver Toys for Tots and make sure Santa passes no home by.

This has been Brennan's Christmas Day tradition for more than a decade, and it never fails to stir her deeply.

Last Dec. 25, she and other volunteers knocked on the door of one home. The parents answered, sleepy-eyed and groggy.

Everybody in the house had slept late because they didn't have any reason to rise -- no presents for the four children to open. The family was surprised by the unannounced visit.

Within a few minutes, "everybody was crying," says Brennan, including the parents, herself and the North Charleston police officers who helped coordinate the drop-off.

Brennan, of Goose Creek, also tears up when remembering another distribution. It's sometimes a struggle to have the right kind of gift for a teenager, she says. But a 15-year-old girl told them, "All I've ever wanted is a baby doll," and walked away clutching one.

"That's why we keep on doing it," says Brennan, 44.

In nearly a quarter of a century volunteering for Toys for Tots, Brennan and her husband, James, have put other families first on the holiday. Now their daughters are following suit, thanks to their parents' powerful example.

Twenty-one-year-old Siobhan Sharer, who married last year and lives in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., cherishes all of those times.

"I love doing it. Going out on Christmas Day means the world to me. It pretty much makes my Christmas. I'm not big on getting gifts," she says.

With her mom's help, she connected this fall with the Toys for Tots unit closest to her new home. She brushes off the 45-minute drive.

Her new group doesn't do individual toy deliveries on Christmas Day because it distributes through community organizations instead. While Siobhan will miss that special experience, she couldn't imagine not helping out in other critical ways, such as the sorting and bagging of toys.

"I love volunteering, period," says Siobhan, who amassed more than 1,000 community service hours during her senior year at Goose Creek High School.

"It's just something I saw my mom do and my dad do, and it just makes me feel good doing things for other people."

The couple's other two daughters, Shaina, 16, and Shannon, 14, also were out last week with their mother to load toys from a huge Blackbaud donation.

"My kids grew up doing this," says Brennan. "I think it gives them a better perspective, gratitude for what they have. I'm grateful they've had the opportunity to see what real need is."

Brennan became involved with Toys for Tots after enlisting in the Marine Corps Reserve in 1986. She volunteered each year thereafter and continued after retiring as a master sergeant in 2008.

"It's just a good feeling," says Brennan, who grew up in a large family and appreciates how her own parents had to make do. She doesn't want any child to feel disappointed or embarrassed by not having a single present to call their own.

These days, Brennan is a full-time student at Trident Technical College and aims to teach high school English or history. She also sells real estate.

But Brennan still finds time to work at the "toy factory" at Citadel Mall, attend donation events and write press releases for the local campaign. She also is looking forward to playing Santa on Christmas Day.

Even though she's now apart from Siobhan, Brennan is proud that her eldest is carrying on the Toys for Tots tradition elsewhere.

"On Christmas Day we'll have the same spirit, even though we're not together."