Annual motorcade takes gifts to Central State

More low key than in previous years, the Mayor’s & Commissioners’ Christmas Motorcade took off from Macon soon after noon Tuesday for Central State Hospital in Milledgeville, taking gifts and money for patients there.

Six large plastic tubs filled with basic items such as clothing, toiletries and games were sent from Macon-Bibb County Government Center, along with a check for $1,795. The gifts and cash were contributed by elected officials and Macon-Bibb government employees.

In the past, Macon-Bibb Mayor Robert Reichert has given the caravan a raucous send-off, but this year he and most commissioners were out of town at a required training session in Athens.

Reichert left a brief statement on the flier that urged employees to donate.

“I’m excited to join others across Georgia in bringing cheer to those in need,” he said. Commissioner Al Tillman headed this year’s fundraising drive among commissioners.

“This is a perfect time to give and a great opportunity to help others,” Tillman said on the flier.

Coordinating the campaign among employees was Assistant County Manager Charles Coney, on hand Tuesday with an oversized check for the $1,795 raised.

Coney said he was excited to see that so many employees joined commissioners in contributing. For those who preferred to give a specific gift instead of cash, a list of needed items was parceled out to all Macon-Bibb departments, he said.

“That way we didn’t end up all with one item,” Coney said.

A handful of government staff was on hand Tuesday to watch the caravan depart at 12:15 p.m. The short procession was led by Bibb County sheriff’s Deputies Keith Black and Andra Dawson on motorcycles. They were followed by an SUV driven by Coney, with Solid Waste Director Kevin Barkley riding along; and finally a van filled with tubs of presents driven by fire inspector Willie Johnson Jr.

The annual event, now expanded to include commissioners in recognition of Macon-Bibb County’s consolidated government, is one of many similar events statewide that seek to send holiday cheer to patients without families, who otherwise would get little to nothing for Christmas.

In 1958, the Georgia Municipal Association began a Christmas Motorcade to Central State at the request of Betty Vandiver, wife of then-Gov. Ernest Vandiver, according to GMA.

In the 1980s the program expanded to serve the rest of the state’s seven mental health facilities, which today have about 3,200 patients.

“Many of these clients have lived in the hospital facility for much of their lives and receive little, if any, support from their families,” the association’s website says.

Any gifts not needed at Christmas go to new patients who need basic items, or they are given on birthdays, according to the group.

To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.