Craven County -

Santa arrived in Eastern Carolina two days early, and he didn't fly in on a sleigh. Instead he rode in on a black pickup truck.

New Bern Second Ward Alderman Victor Taylor spearheads a group called Vision Forward. On Monday, Taylor, volunteers -- and Santa Claus -- delivered gifts to less fortunate children in Craven, Pamlico and Jones Counties.

This is the fifth year that "Operation Santa" has given area children toys and school supplies. Vision Forward provided gifts to more than 12 families and a total of more than 40 children.

Kimberly Cherry's three children couldn't contain their excitement. When asked why he was so happy, Cherry's son Kemel said, "'Cause Santa Claus came, and we got presents."

"I just want to say thank you, and thank you for all the gifts and Merry Christmas," said Cherry's son Zamari.

Cherry is a single mother and a full-time student who lives in the Craven Terrace Housing Development in New Bern.

"I feel very special and very blessed. I really do," Cherry said. "I have one year left, and so next year when I graduate, I'll be able to help and give back to help somebody like they helped me."

Alderman Taylor says that's the whole idea behind the giveaway.

"Vision Forward and myself, we do not want a kid to wake up Christmas morning without a toy," he said. "My reward is the blessing. Once you bless someone else, you're gonna in turn get blessed."

Volunteers recently held a drawing and fund raisers to pay for the gifts. The surprise presents meant big smiles and bright eyes for Kassandra Hollis' five children.

"Just that people actually think about the kids, and they care, and they want to make sure the kids have something for Christmas," Hollis said. "It means a lot."

Hollis also lives in Craven Terrace. Her daughter Kaylee was thrilled to see her new toys but said there was a deeper reason for the holiday.
 
"It's not all about you on Christmas. It's about having a family, and I'm excited that our family is all mixed up together," she said.

Just a few apartments down from the Hollis family, nine-year-old Nyla admired her newly delivered dolls. She summed up the true meaning of Christmas.

"It really doesn't matter if you have gifts, as long as you're with you're family," she said.