Under cover of darkness, Christmas Commandos bring cheer to kids

On the night before Christmas when children are nestled all snug in their beds, Stacy Dalton-Hamburger and her loyal squad of Christmas Commandos are as busy as Santa’s helpers, mapping out the route they will take for delivering joy to homes across the greater Charleston area.

The group’s mission is to bring Christmas under the cover of night to bereaved children who have lost a parent during the holiday season, a project that was started “by accident” in Huntsville, Ala., 10 years ago.

“I was working in an office where a lady died of breast cancer,” Hamburger explained. “She left a husband and four kids, so my friend Bob Eaton and I delivered Christmas to the family that year.”

Hamburger said that barking dogs and the racket that she and Eaton made in hanging Christmas gifts from the trees in the yard could have easily ruined what was meant to be a surprise.

The next morning Hamburger and Eaton called the family and told them to look outside.

“We tried to disguise our voices, but our friend knew it was us,” Hamburger said. “When hospice called to check in on him he told them what we had done.”

The hospice staff was so impressed with Hamburger and Eaton’s generosity that the following year they called and asked them to bring Christmas to five more families.

“This is God’s plan, because we didn’t intend to ever do it again after that first year,” Hamburger said. “Each year there are so many good reasons not to do this, but each year we find that we are getting more and more organized and the mission becomes clearer.”

Five years after the initial gift drop in Huntsville, Hamburger and her family moved to Mount Pleasant, and she found herself initiating the project once more. The charitable effort that once included two well-intentioned co-workers has developed into a group of 16 Commandos who brought Christmas to 143 children last year.

“We wear all black and don’t start until after midnight,” said Hamburger. “We travel as one group and have a police escort the entire time.”

Although there are only 16 individuals who actually deliver the gifts, it takes the efforts of hundreds of local volunteers to make the project possible.

“We are conducting a live Internet auction to raise money. Knights of Columbus has donated $250, and Christ our King and St. Benedict’s have each donated $500,” said Hamburger. “The community truly helps us so much.”

The church donations were made thanks to the efforts of Karen Sheldon, one of Hamburger’s close friends.

“This is my second year as a volunteer, and I have seen such an outpouring of warmth from the community,” said Sheldon. She approached Christ Our King, St. Benedict, and Stella Maris for help, and said that she has “really seen them come through.”

Sheldon emphasized that this isn’t just a Catholic Church effort.

“We have contributors of all religions who have helped out,” she said.

“It is amazing that area businesses are making donations and conducting toy drives, and even the police are willing to help us out because they see how important this is.”

To volunteer, make a donation, or to inform the group of a bereaved family, call (843) 216-8325, log onto the Web site at www.christmascommandos.org, or email christmascommand@aol.com.