News 12 at 11 o'clock / Friday, Dec. 16, 2011
MARTINEZ, Ga. -- Holiday gifts are starting to take over Melissa Bartelt's home.
Everything from boxes to Barbies and bracelets are stacked and tucked into shoe boxes all over her living and dining rooms.
"They're like a really big stocking!" Melissa joked, "In the shape of a present."
Bartelt calls her project Shoe boxes for Shelters. She's "adopted" 40 children she's never even met. They're all from local homeless facilities and battered women shelters.
"A lot of these kids are afraid, removed from their home, and to see that little bit of joy brought back to them is amazing. You really have to stop yourself from crying," she explained.
For the second year now, Bartelt has spent months and her own money to buy these gifts for kids of all ages. She starts packing up another box, saying to herself, "This one is for -- we'll call her 'C.' She's 8 years old."
Each box is different; each one is made with a special touch.
But Bartelt says what's inside the box isn't what's really important. Her goal is just to show the kids somebody loves them. She says these might be the only gifts these kids are getting for Christmas.
"I can pretty much guarantee it," she said.
And Bartelt would know, as this is a deeply personal project for her.
"For so many years, my family lived on charity. And it's embarrassing, it's sad, and it's scary, especially as a child," she said. "So I just wanted to let them know that someone was there for them."
As she puts the finishing touches on "C's" box, Bartelt says she hopes she will finish up the 40 gifts just in time to deliver them Christmas week. Of course, she's really just helping Santa find the children whose locations must be kept secret for safety reasons.
For Bartelt, the best gift of all this season is giving back.
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