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First lady lends a hand at Norcross ministry

Patti Henderson, left, works with First Lady Sandra Deal, center, Stephanie Mayfield, right center, and Lauren Armour, right, to collect toys while organizing and putting together "toy boxes" that will be distributed to needy children throughout the area at Norcross Cooperative Ministry during a series of statewide events to encourage volunteerism Saturday in Norcorss.

Patti Henderson, left, works with First Lady Sandra Deal, center, Stephanie Mayfield, right center, and Lauren Armour, right, to collect toys while organizing and putting together "toy boxes" that will be distributed to needy children throughout the area at Norcross Cooperative Ministry during a series of statewide events to encourage volunteerism Saturday in Norcorss.

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First Lady Sandra Deal collects toys while organizing and putting together "toy boxes" that will be distributed to needy children throughout the area at Norcross Cooperative Ministry during a series of statewide events to encourage volunteerism Saturday in Norcorss.

NORCROSS -- Sandra Deal took her job seriously.

She searched the shelves filled with Barbies, games of Chutes and Ladders and Candy Land and trucks to find the perfect gift for a child she had never met.

But Georgia's first lady worked hard Saturday to pick out the perfect Christmas present, as she volunteered with a few dozen others to pack Santa's sack for the Norcross Cooperative Ministry.

"That's the real meaning of Christmas, to serve others," Deal said.

In separate events across the state Gov. Nathan Deal and his wife worked at a food bank, visited an addiction ministry and fed the hungry in a program called "With a Servant's Heart." Sandra Deal said the first family hoped their efforts would inspire others to give back.

With 2,542 children to help, the Norcross ministry appreciated the effort.

"It's fun to be able to expose people to what it is," said Patti Henderson, who has coordinated the Christmas program with her husband for 13 years. "People get a passion for it once they see it in action."

The first lady sorted through stocking stuffers and perused the shelves of the co-op, arranged like a Toys 'R' Us for the volunteer event.

She reminisced about her children's favorite toys as she marveled at the new choices, and she stopped to encourage a few Girl Scouts as they packed toys.

"It was a lot of fun," 13-year-old Megan Craig said of "shopping" for donated toys alongside the first lady.

Deal tried to impart a lesson on one of her favorite sayings: "The best exercise for the heart is bending over to pick someone else up."

"We just want to encourage other people to do that," Deal said. "It's just community investing in changing lives and giving people a hand up."