When he was about 8 years old, Ben Shaul began accompanying his mother and younger brother to the Salvation Armys Christmas Bureau to help needy families choose gifts for their children.
As a student at Providence Day private school in south Charlotte, Shaul knew he was blessed to have a family that could afford to give us a lot of things that other families cant.
And he was struck by the number of needy families who came to the Salvation Armys store to shop for gifts.
Watching how many people who were lining up to come in, it made me very sad, said Shaul, now 26. That is when I really took it in I obviously cant fix that, but I can do something to help.
He and his brother Robby continued working at the Christmas Bureau until two years ago, when both had finished college and decided to start their own toy drive.
I said, Why dont we start doing this for our Christmas party, Shaul recalled.
They called it Shaul Boys Toys, and the first year, they invited 50 relatives and friends to a Christmas party at their parents home in south Charlotte. All guests were asked to bring toys that would be donated to the Salvation Armys Christmas bureau.
They collected about 60 toys.
Last year, they invited 100 people and doubled the number of gifts.
This year, they moved the party from their parents house to Suite at EpiCentre, a nightclub in uptown Charlotte.
Last Thursday, several hundred people showed up for the party renamed A Suite Gift for the Holidays and the Shaul boys toy drive again doubled its take.
The Salvation Army took home more than 200 toys that night, from stuffed animals and dolls to board games and toy trucks. With cash donations and another collection point at Gil Gallery, the brothers hope to donate more than 300 toys this year.
The Shauls toy drive is one of more than 100 toy drives held around Charlotte each winter to help The Salvation Armys Christmas Bureau supply toys to needy children. The drives are sponsored by young professionals, like the Shauls, but also by apartment complexes, congregations, businesses, hospitals, doctors offices and schools. The Bureau, which is funded in part by the Observers Empty Stocking Fund, expects to provide toys to nearly 14,000 children this Christmas with the help of donors.
Salvation Army officials say drives like those sponsored by the Shaul brothers provide more than 15,000 toys each year, saving the agency thousands of dollars.
Ben Shaul credited his mother, Michele, with instilling a sense of philanthropy in him and his brother.
My dad traveled a lot for work, he said. My mother was the one who would take us to volunteer.
Both brothers are in business now Ben started his own design and apparel company, John Benjamin Designs, and Robby works with his father, Roger, in the family business, Preferred Medical Marketing Corporation. As members of the Charlotte Jaycees Ben is president-elect the brothers also participate in other community projects.
Their mother said she felt it was important to expose them to volunteering at a young age.
I tried to point out that most of the folks coming through were working poor. It wasnt people just sitting around They were coming in around their work schedules, Michele said. It was a really good thing for them to see.