The brothers of Omega Psi Phi waded deep into December crowds and returned to their fraternity house victorious, bearing Magna Rip Claws and Mongooses, Thunder Tumblers and BeyWarriors Shogun Steel Octagon Battle Sets. Amid all those gray and red and black bikes and skates and cars, piled near the house’s leather couches and a big-screen showing NFL highlights, sat one very pink Nerf Rebelle: a crossbow designed specifically for girls.
A gender-specific crossbow?
“I know. It’s crazy, right? What will they think of next?” laughed brother Michael Little.
But Skylar, 10, wanted it, and the brothers of Charlotte’s Pi Phi graduate chapter like to get kids what they want. “She’s going to have a goooooood Christmas,” said Little.
The brothers’ mission? Fulfill the dreams of 100 Charlotte kids, through the Salvation Army’s Christmas Bureau. That program provides struggling parents with gifts for their children, paid for in part with money donated to the Observer’s Empty Stocking Fund. The fraternity comprises about 250 members, all college graduates, working in an array of fields but all committed to service and social responsibility.
Dino Miller has organized the chapter’s Angel Tree drive since 2001, he said, when they took on about 20 kids to buy for. That number began to grow, eventually hitting 50 by 2009. As the national fraternity – which counts Mayor Pat Cannon and Police Chief Rodney Monroe among its members locally – neared its centennial in 2011, Miller approached the membership at the November 2010 chapter meeting. We should double it to 100, he said, to celebrate our 100 years.
Daunting, particularly when you realize Shogun Steel Octagon Battle Sets go for 40 or 50 bucks, Rip Claws for $50 or $60 and Xbox games such as Madden 25 climb from there.
But “the brothers are very willing to go for stretch goals,” said Miller. Joachim Rogers, chapter basileus (president, essentially), said the group particularly likes knowing gifts go to children who live near their north Charlotte fraternity house: “A lot of the toys stay right in that area.”
“I got the Madden 25,” said John Montgomery, a 30-year fraternity member. He practically had to: “That’s the hottest game out there.” Plus, it’s easier to find than, say, a Flutterbye Flying Fairy Doll in the requested pink color. Which some brother, bless his heart, tracked down. It’s conceivable, admitted Miller’s wife, LaTonja, that a wife aided in the search. It happens.
“If you get your name on the list early, you can get a boy,” revealed Preston Pendergrass, who just finds them a lot easier to shop for. “I got clothes and an art set, a nice one” for the boy he got this year, he said. “I used to do some drawing, so that helped.”
Once the brothers had gotten their gifts organized – supplementing with last-minute purchases (“Look! This skateboard has a carrying case and everything!”), then bagging and tagging and loading them into four SUVs, a little pickup and two cars – a cadre of the men caravaned to the south Charlotte Christmas Bureau. They waited a few minutes in the cold to meet bureau coordinator Lindsay Duncan, then carted everything in.
Duncan loves these guys, all clad in fraternity purple and gold : satin jackets, sweatshirts, T-shirts, jerseys, each with the knight and swords and lamp of their crest. “You’re a memorable group!” she told them. “You let us put faces to names.”
Miller held up his phone to show the panorama photograph he’d taken three weeks earlier, when the place was cavernously empty. Then he took a new one, this one of the space filling up with hundreds and hundreds of bags of gifts waiting for more than 12,000 needy kids, seniors and families. “What we’re doing is just a small contribution, part of a whole community, trying to do something for the whole community.”