By Michael Salerno
For Hometown News
DAYTONA BEACH SHORES - A local salon owner will be one of Santa's helpers to more than a thousand local children in need at Christmas.
Cherise Wintz will work in collaboration with the organization Operation Changing Lives to deliver a truckload of toys collected by the late Pastor Woody Keiser, a Port Orange man who was known in the community for giving toys to terminally ill and special needs children through his Dream-A-Wish Foundation.
"We have not unpacked them, but we're under the impression there's over 6,000 to 7,000 toys," Ms. Wintz said.
"This was exciting to be blessed with this many toys," she said. "We've doubled the amount of children we can provide for."
Ms. Wintz has worked with Operation Changing Lives, a nonprofit that provides surgeries for children with facial deformities such as cleft lip palate, since its founding in 2008, hosting Christmas parties for needy children. She said Mr. Keiser visited two of her parties playing Santa, which was how the two knew each other.
When Mr. Keiser died this past July at the age of 77, he left behind a stockpile of thousands of toys that were to be given to local children in need. Mr. Keiser's wife, Patricia, decided to give the toys to someone in the community who would continue the work Mr. Keiser did for children, ultimately choosing Ms. Wintz.
"Cherise seemed honest and sincere about continuing (Mr. Keiser's) mission and it was clear to us all that her heart is in it as well as her spirit," said Lucetta Richard, one of Mr. Keiser's children.
Adding that the Keiser family will stay in touch with Ms. Wintz and Operation Changing Lives so they can help in any way possible, Ms. Richard said, "We wish her God's Blessings as she has very large shoes to fill."
Ms. Wintz, who's owned and operated Cherise's Salon at 3612 S. Atlantic Ave. for the past 25 years, is accepting toy donations at her salon to add to the large toy collection she inherited from the Keiser family. The more toys she has, the more children she will be able to help, she said.
At her annual Christmas parties, she invites needy children from area schools to choose the toys they want from the available donations. She also offers cookies and rides on Santa's sleigh.
And the giving doesn't end at Christmas. Ms. Wintz also has used the salon to solicit donations for a recent clothing drive, as well as backpacks and supplies for a back-to-school drive.
"We do so many things besides Christmas," she said. "We help so many people with needs in the community."
To help her efforts, Ms. Wintz went before city leaders asking for their blessing to organize a Christmas parade, which was approved by the cultural and entertainment board. She said a business or organization can participate in the parade for a $100 donation to Operation Changing Lives.
The Christmas parade will be the city's first in 14 years, she said.
Daytona Beach Shores' Christmas parade is slated for 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8.
Operation Changing Lives also will raise funds with its third annual 5k Run/Walk, which starts at the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse at 8 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 17. Participants can enter for $25, or $20 and a donation of an unwrapped toy.
Ms. Wintz said she hopes her efforts will carry on the legacy left by Mr. Keiser.
"It's great because everything is going in a positive direction," she said. "It's overwhelming for me because it keeps snowballing. I'm very honored."
For information about Operation Changing Lives, call (386) 239-3573 or go to operationchanginglives.com.