RABUN COUNTY, Ga. - A husband and wife in Rabun County dedicated their lives to spreading Christmas cheer, but this year, all their work came to a screeching halt when a group of burglars ransacked their home.
Thomas and Maryjane Phillips retired several years ago, but they still work as "Santa and Hollie Claus" year-round visiting children, elderly and the homeless--donating toys and food.
"I feel like it was my calling to give back," said Thomas, who sports a long white beard even in the summer. "There's always someone less fortunate than you, and I think we are called to share what we have," said Phillips.
But all that love and care was ripped to shreds after the couple came home from a hospital stay to find their home in shambles.
"Everything had been ransacked," said Thomas.
They say squatters had been living in the home.
"There was drug paraphernalia in the house," said Thomas' wife, Maryjane Phillips. The worst discovery--the toys.
"They even took our clothes, but most of all, they took the toys," said Maryjane. "The toys we'd already collected for the kids."
Hundreds of toys, their Santa outfits, and family heirlooms: stolen or ruined.
"I was in shock," said Maryjane Phillips.
A multi-agency investigation led to the arrest of 13 people in connection with the burglary. According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, many of those arrested are affiliated with the Aryan Brotherhood gang. They face federal charges.
For the Phillips, the arrests are comforting, but they're still praying for a Christmas miracle to get all new toys before December 25.
"Our lives have been forever changed, but the fact that we want to do for kids have not changed," said Maryjane Phillips. "Our mission is still the same, it's just gonna take us a little more effort to do it."
If you want to help Santa and Mrs. Claus collect more toys, e-mail Maryjane here: email@example.com.
Their next event is the 13th annual "Jingle Jog" and will be held on December 14 at the Faith Baptist Church at 1789 Highway 11, Monroe, GA 30655. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.