David Holtzclaw’s life changed on May 16, 2003.
That day, Holtzclaw’s mother, Sylvia, was a teller at the Blue Ridge Savings Bank in Greer, South Carolina. She was slain by a still-unknown assailant along with Eb and Maggie Barnes, customers at the bank. Twenty years on, the murders are still unsolved.
A lot of other lives changed that day, too. Those lives were touched by Sylvia Holtzclaw’s legacy, and by the good her son and the group of people who have continued a toy drive she helped fund before her death, and which has continued to bring unexpected joy to children on Christmas in the two decades since the tragedy.
The Syl Syl Christmas Toy Drive will mark its 20th event on November 12, accepting toys for needy children in the Greer area and beyond. The vast majority of the toys – up to 85 percent from Holtzclaw’s estimate – will remain in Greer through the Cops for Tots program. The rest will go to the Country Santa program, which reaches throughout the Upstate. And donations pour in from all over.
“It’s funny, because there are people I don’t recognize and I’ll have to ask them how they heard about it. We’ve had people come from as far away as Anderson to donate. They’d seen it on TV, and just wanted to be a part of it. There are a lot from Spartanburg and Greenville. We’ve been very fortunate.”
Holtzclaw said the generosity of the community is what’s kept the toy drive going.
“I’ll tell you, we didn’t think when we started it that we’d be doing it for 20 years,” he said. “The response continues to be really big, and it’s something we’re going to keep doing as long as it’s supported.”
The community has definitely supported the effort through the years. Greer Football, Riverside Football, Greer Volleyball, and other local teams and youth organizations have all been involved. There are also corporate and personal donations, including couples like Mark and Sarah Lowe, who have provided multiple bicycles for the past several years.
The event stems back, Holtzclaw said, to something his mother started in the years before her death.
“The way the whole thing started is when Mom was still alive, she and (Greer radio play by play announcer) Robbie Graveley’s wife, Josie, and a few other ladies from Greer First Baptist Church wanted to help a few local families in the Greer area that they knew about,” Holtzclaw said. “It was probably going for four or five years prior to her death. They started it that way, as a little four or five person toy drive, and they’d buy food for the families and take it to them.”
It was a natural extension, then, to keep the drive going in Sylvia Holtzclaw’s memory.
“After Mom got killed, those ladies came to us and said they wanted to continue it, but make it a community event,” Holtzclaw said. “They asked us to come up with a name, and that’s how it started.”
Holtzclaw said his mother would love what the event has grown into, but hate any personal attention.
“Now, she would want no publicity,” he said. “She would want zero attention. The reason that people see the one photograph of her that we’ve been sharing for 20 years is because we don’t have any other photos. That’s what we’ve got. She didn’t want to be in front of the camera, didn’t want to be in the spotlight. She wanted to be behind it. She wanted to set it up, run it, and be behind it during the event. But she would LOVE the event itself. She’d be all for what it benefits as far as the kids in the area. She’d be all-in on that.”
Holtzclaw said the event is a fitting tribute to his mother.
“We couldn’t think of a better way to keep her memory alive than to do this,” he said. “She used to help with the Cops for Tots program back almost when they first started it. She loved it. She was always willing to give to the community. She loved the Greer area, loved the people in Greer, and obviously loved kids. It fits perfectly as a way to remember her.”
Far beyond just Christmas and the ability to provide gifts for children who might not otherwise have them, Holtzclaw sees the lasting, far-reaching impact of the event.
“It’s great to know that the little bit we’re able to do for this turns into such a big thing for kids on that day, but then it lives on,” Holtzclaw said. “I think for us, personally, to see kids who came as kids to the event now are bringing their kids and helping them to understand the reason for this. Maybe not the reasons or the circumstances, but ‘this is what we do to help other people’. It’s just a quality of Mom that will continue to live on, and I think that’s the best way to remember her.”
Any new and unwrapped toy is welcome in the drive, but Holtzclaw said sometimes older children’s needs are more in-demand. Wireless headsets, wireless speakers, hairbrushes and beauty supplies for girls, and other items that go beyond just toys are popular requests.
“They’re starting to get to the age where they want those things,” he said. “Not necessarily a toy, but something like that. But anything people want to bring is wonderful. Whether you bring one toy or a thousand, we’re going to put them to use.”
Harrison’s is proud to be assisting with this year’s Syl Syl Toy Drive. From now through Saturday, November 11th, bring in a new, unwrapped toy and you’ll receive 10 percent off your entire regular-priced purchase. If you bring in five toys or more, we’ll give you 15 percent off. We'll be collecting at our Mauldin and Spartanburg locations.
The Syl Syl Toy Drive will officially be held at The Clock in Greer on Sunday, November 12th from 2 p.m. – 4 p.m.
“That was Mom’s favorite place to eat, and Jimmy and Arthur have been fantastic to us from Day One,” Holtzclaw said. “We’d love to see everybody and talk with everybody and we’ll make sure that kids get these toys at Christmas.”