Mount Pleasant — Jordan Singleton didn't have to travel to Santa's workshop in the North Pole to spend Christmas surrounded by televisions, skateboards, DVD players and remote-controlled cars.
Inside the special "toyland" section of TBonz Restaurant, more than 150 children had the chance to select a gift of their choice Tuesday. Ten-year-old Jordan pondered his options for a few moments and then jumped aboard a blue bicycle. He broke out in a big smile when his feet reached the pedals. The bike was the right size.
"I really wanted a bike this year," Jordan said. "My old bike is in storage in Montana. I miss riding it. But it's probably not big enough anymore for me anyway."
For the 15th year in a row, scores of volunteers at TBonz made Christmas dreams come true by spending their holiday serving hot meals to underprivileged families, many of whom came from local shelters such as Crisis Ministries. In addition to hearty helpings of turkey, ham, macaroni and cheese and stuffing, children were able to visit with Santa Claus, get their face painted and pick a special toy to take with them.
It was the first Christmas at Crisis Ministries for Jordan and his two younger siblings, said his mother, Tammy Singleton.
The family moved to South Carolina from Montana last year to be closer to relatives, but many of their belongings still remain out west. Singleton said she was worried the holiday season wouldn't be as joyous this year due to the family's living situation, but then she found out about the TBonz celebration.
Watching her children select presents was "indescribable," Singleton said.
"When I saw that Jordan got a new bike, I couldn't contain myself," she said. "They have something to play on again. The people here are just really generous."
TBonz Restaurant Group founders Jerry Scheer and Mark Cumins credited the annual event's success to the roughly 75 volunteers who come back year after year to cook food, serve families and assist children in selecting toys.
The look of amazement on the childrens' faces as they peered inside the toyland section made the effort even more worthwhile for organizers, Cumins said.
"You can't change somebody's life," he said. "But you sure can make them happy for a few hours."
The event's location was switched this year from the Market Street restaurant downtown to Mount Pleasant, where the restaurant can hold more people.
Juliette Smith didn't let the change of venue ruin her family's plans to attend. The downtown resident has no car, but she was so determined to take her six children for the fifth consecutive year that she rented a van to drive her family over the bridge.
"They look forward to this every year, and I had promised them," said Smith, whose children are aged 2 to 15. "We are glad this place is here for us to celebrate the holidays. It means a lot to me."
As families dined and children opened their new toys, volunteers began packing cars with 400 meals to deliver to local nursing homes, churches and other community organizations. Several fire and police stations also received platters from the restaurant for those who were scheduled to work.
Back inside the restaurant, Felicia Gailliard struggled to keep tabs on her 2-year-old daughter Maylisha. The young girl had selected a life-size doll that came up to her chin and was trying to pry its box open. Once she held it in her arms, Maylisha then attempted to remove the doll's pink shirt and pants.
"Don't tear her clothes off," said Gailliard, who also is staying at Crisis Ministries. "Give your baby doll a hug and a kiss instead."
Finally, mom succumbed to the holiday spirit.
"I don't care what she does with the doll as long as it makes her happy," Gailliard said. "We are very thankful for everything today."