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South Carolinians celebrate Christmas

On Christmas Day, South Carolinians were giving and sharing their blessings with others. Just a few of those stories:

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Thousands served

MYRTLE BEACH - The Coastal S.C. Chapter of the American Red Cross served turkey dinners, gave out clothes, coats and presents to nearly 4,500 Myrtle Beach area residents Christmas afternoon - about 500 more than they had been serving in years past.

The dinners, held at four locations around the Grand Strand and delivered to those who could not leave their homes, were a needed hot meal for some. For others, it was a chance to celebrate the holiday with others. And for volunteers and those who came to eat and donate money to the Red Cross, it was a chance to give back to the Red Cross in one of its biggest years of need.

Dozens of volunteers spent most of this week cooking, organizing, transporting, planning, and decorating for the dinners. The downtown Myrtle Beach dinner was moved to a new location this year, the St. John's Greek Orthodox Church on U.S. 17 Bypass, to offer more space and a larger kitchen area for prep time. And with 1,500 pounds of mashed potatoes and dozens of turkeys to prepare, the volunteers made good use of extra counters and ovens.

For Donna Guerrin, who's been coming to the dinner every year for more than a dozen years, the meal is more than just turkey, it's a chance to spend Christmas with a large group of people from all walks of life and all ages, who are full of Christmas spirit.

"I was on the street for 17 years of my life, and I know what it can mean to have people to spend Christmas with. It's just ... joyous to be here," she said. "It's so great to see the children and the folks who are as old as 102, just sitting together and celebrating Christmas. It's always meant a lot to me."

- Claudia Lauer, The (Myrtle Beach) Sun News

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'Forever grateful'

FLORENCE - When Pastors Ricky and Annie Gilcrist were first called to the ministry seven years ago, they could never know how far they would come in such a short time. Just 1 1/2 years ago, the couple opened the doors of their church, the Fresh Beginnings Christian Center, in the small community of Little Rock in Dillon County.

"The Lord impressed upon our hearts to start a ministry, so that was what we did," Ricky Gilcrist said. "And the Lord has blessed us up to this point; we're forever grateful for it."

For Christmas this year, the husband and wife decided to offer the community a Christmas Day service and free dinner as a way of expressing that gratitude. Hit hard by economic struggles, many people in Dillon County have lost their jobs and their homes, so putting food on the table can be a challenge.

"We have a lot of folks suffering because of the economy, some of them are laid off work, lot of them have lost their jobs, so instead of the holidays being a happy and joyous time of year for people, it can bring on a lot of depression." Pastor Ricky said.

The sense of community and welcomeness was clear the minute parishioners entered the doors of the church, which was decorated simply with red pews trimmed in white and an altar with floral arrangements.

More than 60 people who attended the service and holiday meal gathered together in the church's fellowship hall to dine on a traditional Christmas dinner prepared by church members.

"We decide to serve this dinner because we wanted to reach out to the community," Annie Gilcrist said. "We wanted to be a blessing not just here but to the whole community."

- Rebecca Ducker, (Florence) Morning News

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Ready to serve

GREENVILLE - C.J. Husband was in the sixth grade when two jetliners crashed into the World Trade Center and shattered America's sense of invulnerability.

On Jan. 2, the Travelers Rest High graduate will board a bus for Fort McCoy, Wis., and then a plane headed for Afghanistan to fight in a war that was touched off by that attack.

He'll leave behind a wife, Brittney - and if all goes well today - a son, Wyatt Barron Husband.

It is for this child that C.J. Husband will be fighting, he says. And for his family, and country.

"It is difficult knowing that I'm going to leave when I'm about to have a child," he said, "but it also makes me proud of what I'm doing, fighting for his freedom and to make sure he's safe."

He almost didn't get the chance to be here for the birth of his first son, his parent's first grandchild.

He and his comrades with the National Guard's 174th Engineer Company, based in Wellford, have been training in Wisconsin since mid-November, getting acclimated to the cold weather they will see in Afghanistan. They received 10 days leave for the holidays but were required to pay for a trip home themselves.

Some couldn't afford it, and some who could said they didn't want to leave their fellow soldiers behind. A fundraising drive by local supporters, given a big boost by a $25,000 donation from Lowe's, made the trip home possible.

When Brittney saw her doctor Wednesday afternoon, he gave the OK to go ahead and induce labor on the day after Christmas, she said.

"I'm excited," she said. "I'm ready for it."

- Ron Barnett, The Greenville News

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Many miracles

TEGA CAY - At this time last year, Connor "Bear" McKemey was a Christmastime tragedy.

That he was still alive when Dec. 25, 2008, came around seemed miraculous.

The Tega Cay teen wasn't supposed to survive after being badly burned last year when an outdoor fireplace erupted at his home four days before Christmas. But Connor, in his last year at Gold Hill Middle School, hung on.

Last Christmas, when his parents, Karin and George McKemey, were at his bedside at an Augusta burn center, George asked his son if he could hear them. Connor nodded his head.

"That was our Christmas miracle," Karin said days later.

Their first.

Then doctors braced the family for a long list of things Connor "would never" do again: the teen would never walk again. He'd never grow hair again. He'd never play his beloved sports again.

However, the determined teen, who faced about 35 surgeries and was once comatose for two months, proved the doctors wrong. He broke down their list of "would nevers" to achieve the impossible.

"I didn't think I could reach this point," Connor said in a recent interview at the family's home. "It seems like ages ago since I've been to the burn center. I didn't think when I got out of there that I'd be moving around like I now do."

And move he does.

He sinks basketballs and sends footballs spiraling. The Fort Mill High School freshman is getting his lacrosse groove back just in time for the game to be elevated from club status to sanctioned league sport for the Yellow Jackets this spring.

And he enjoys prized time with his friends.

"Me and my friends have been to the movies 15 times since I've been home," said Connor, who returned home in May. "It's been so fun just to hang out."

- Toya Graham, Fort Mill Times

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