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Saving Christmas

Christmas is supposed to be a time of giving and joy. In Summerville, Georgia, Christmas has been a little bit brighter for hundreds of underprivileged children thanks to a program started in 2000 by firefighter, Dee Windle and City of Summerville police officer, Clinton Young. The program raised funds that were used to purchase Christmas gifts for children who otherwise wouldn’t experience Christmas at all.

Over the past decade and a half, the Santa in Uniform program grew to include local basketball and baseball tournaments hosted by the City of Summerville Recreation Department, and even a motorcycle ride led by Chief of Police, Stan Mosley. Uniformed officers and city officials donated their own time, and often their own money, to turn the idea into a full-fledged Christmas miracle that, once a year, turned the aisles of Walmart into the elf workshops of the North Pole.

In the early years, Santa in Uniform went to local schools to help identify kids who may fall under the umbrella of hardship and the team of local elves spent the year raising funds that made the shopping day a major event. As many as 50 kids per year would join with Chief Mosley, Recreation Department Head, Bo Chamlee and dozens of local officers and officials, to make the special shopping trip through Walmart and end up with lunch at Wendy’s. The trip has become legendary and nobody involved leaves the day without shedding tears of joy at the young lives touched by the countless people who donate money to the worthy cause.

Over the course of the last week, Chief Mosley uncovered errors in the accounting with the Santa In Uniform bank statements. As Chief Mosley conducted a preliminary investigation into the errors, his heart was broken twice. Once by the awareness of who the potential culprit was, and again at the realization of the children left without Christmas.

As the errors looked more and more like embezzlement by an organization insider, Mosley was faced with only one course of action. The GBI was notified and immediately began an independent investigation. Chief Mosley’s Administrative Assistant, Stacy Fountain, was placed on leave and resigned the following day. Fountain, an 18-year veteran of the police department and Clerk of Municipal Court, has since employed the counsel of local attorney Rex Abernathy and is refusing to answer questions or be interviewed by the GBI. Former City Manager, Russell Thompson went on record last year after a local businessman attempted to stop one of the fund-raising events by stating that the Santa in Uniform program is a nonprofit organization that is not part of official city business and doesn’t fall under any city jurisdiction. Chief Mosley is conducting his own internal review of accounting procedures and will be implementing changes.

No charges have been filed as the GBI continues the forensic accounting investigation, but Chief Mosley has already felt the effects.

In what could be a long-running crime, the Santa In Uniform account has lost money that could total into the tens of thousands of dollars. The loss is made more devastating by the victims of the heartless crime. Dozens of underprivileged children stand to miss out on what has become a Summerville tradition and their best hope at a normal Christmas this year. Chief Mosley fears that, while the current account is temporarily frozen by the GBI investigation, the damage may have much more long-lasting effects. 100% of the money used by the program is generated by the many fund raisers and from the pockets of kind-hearted people who anonymously give of themselves to benefit those children in need. Chief Mosley and others who participate in the shopping trip, speak of the indescribable feeling of watching the excitement and joy on the faces of the kids selected for the experience. “I look forward to it all year,” said Recreation Director Bo Chamlee. “You can’t put into words how much it means to those kids. It is the best community program I’ve ever participated in. My Christmas wouldn’t be the same…”

Local residents across the county are already responding to the call to Save Christmas. People are clamoring to ensure that the Grinch inside a single person doesn’t steal Christmas in Summerville. For those filled with the Christmas spirit who are moved to help needy children in the county, stay tuned to AllOnGeorgia in the coming weeks.

Christmas Day is in our grasp, 

So Long as we have hands to grasp.

Christmas Day will always be, 

Just as long as we have we. 

Welcome Christmas while we stand

Heart to heart and hand in hand. 

-Dr. Seuss

 

Villeda Concrete

Casie Bryant is the NW Georgia Regional Manager for AllOnGeorgia.

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