Published 12:00 am Friday, December 14, 2007

COURTLAND—Santa Claus got a head start on Christmas Thursday, with a little help from employees of Norfolk International Terminals.

Nineteen Head Start students from Courtland and Windsor received boxes and bags brimming with gifts during a special event at the Courtland Head Start Center Thursday morning.

Courtesy of a group of employees of the Norfolk location of the Port of Virginia, the gifts continued and expanded upon a tradition begun 15 years ago by the late Robert A. Hill Sr., a Virginia State Police trooper known for his efforts to make Christmas more special for low-income children in the area.

Vivian Stevens-Lyons, a rail supervisor for the Norfolk division of the Virginia International Terminals, got involved in the effort after Hill’s death last year.

A native of Franklin who had known Hill through his work in the area’s real estate market, she was quick to agree to help with the annual Head Start toy distribution when asked by a friend, Beverly Randall, a Head Start teacher in Windsor.

The effort last year was to supplement that of the state police, who were sent reeling when Hill, the organizer of and primary force behind the Christmas toy drive for Head Start, was killed on the day after Thanksgiving.

When she was asked to help out again this year, Stevens-Lyons said, she asked folks who work with her if they’d be interested in helping out. She presented a list of children to the group, along with each child’s wish list.

By the time her co-workers were done shopping, there were so many dolls, bicycles, action figures, wagons and clothes for the 19 children that she had to rent a van to deliver them all to Courtland on Thursday.

&uot;The staff was really generous,&uot; she said.

The state police continue also continue to be involved with Head Start and were set to do their own toy distribution there, with a different set of children, on Friday.

In Trooper Hill’s honor, area law enforcement officers have expanded their efforts this year to fulfill the Christmas wishes of children in Franklin and Southampton. A toy drive sponsored by the Fraternal Order of Police was expected to conclude Thursday night, with as many as 500 area children served.

That event was to conclude with a visit from Santa at the Robert A. Hill Sr. Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 56 in Courtland. Volunteers handed out bags full of clothing Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at the FOP Lodge and at the Sportsman’s Club in Franklin.