By Jason A. Smith
McDONOUGH — Kimberly Carden went to her Sweet 16 party ready to celebrate Saturday.
Little did she know, however, she would receive an honor for helping children in need during the holiday season.
Carden, a sophomore at Ola High School, was given the Distinguished Citizen Award by Marine Corps League Detachment 1339 in McDonough.
“I didn’t expect it at all,” she said. “I had no idea that was going to happen and I was really honored.”
The accolade recognized her efforts to collect new, unwrapped toys during the party for the Toys for Tots campaign rather than accepting birthday gifts.
Carden said the project went better than she thought it would as nearly everyone who came to the party brought a toy.
“I didn’t expect that many people to bring toys but I was really pleased with the turnout,” she said. “I just hope that other people see what can come out of being nice to other people.”
Commandant Sam Lites of the Marine Corps League presented a surprised Carden with the award. He said Carden is the first person from Henry County to receive it.
“She’s done an unselfish act by donating her birthday gifts to Toys for Tots,” said Lites.
Throughout the night, party guests filled a large box with toys as they arrived in support of Carden’s endeavor. Carden said she wanted to use her party as a way to help needy children and to express her respect for the U.S. military.
Carden’s mother, Anita Carden, said the teenager told her about her birthday plans earlier this year and that neither of them expected her to be rewarded for it.
“To me, it was a simple thing that she did and it just kind of ballooned,” the mother said. “She didn’t do it for any recognition and we’re totally shocked.”
Anita Carden said her daughter’s decision to donate the toys sends a positive message to others.
“There are some good kids out there with good hearts,” she said.
Kelly Wilson, drop site coordinator for Atlanta Toys for Tots, lives in Henry County and said Carden’s donation will mean a lot to the kids who receive the toys.
“She’s giving them the opportunity to know what it’s like to have something for Christmas,” said Wilson.