A Virginia man with vivid memories of growing up poor in the town of Harrisonburg in the Shenandoah Valley came back over the weekend with a 26-foot truck packed with $12,000 worth of toys.
Adam Armstrong gave away bikes, balls and remote-control cars among other items to residents of Harris Gardens Apartments — a low-income, Section 8 complex in Harrisonburg where he once lived.
“You see these kids and you hand them a baby doll, or a Nerf gun, a bicycle, two little boys throwing a football and you can't put a price on the feeling that gives you," Armstrong told NBC News on Wednesday. "I consider myself very blessed."
After giving away toys to all comers at Harris Gardens, the Santa-hat-wearing Armstrong said he hit three other, nearby low-income developments before donating remaining gifts to the Salvation Army.
"I remember Harrisonburg being a friendly small town," about 130 miles southwest of the nation's capital, Armstrong said. "I remember government housing and a lot of poverty, crimes, drugs, violence and things of that nature. Every time I see kids, I know it's not their fault where they are."
Harris Gardens property manager Sara Lewis-Weeks was just finishing lunch on Wednesday last week when Armstrong, 35, strolled into her office.
"He comes in and says, `What are you doing on Saturday? I'd like give away a lot of toys' and I'm like, `Yeaaah, I don't know about that,' " Lewis-Weeks recounted. 'I'm very skeptical at that point."
But once Lewis-Weeks confirmed Armstrong's identity and that he has a made a good living in selling vacation properties, she made flyers for kids in the complex to show up Saturday morning for a toy giveaway. The property manager assumed Armstrong's gifts were going to be minimal.
"It wasn't like stuffed animals, he was giving away bikes, remote-controlled cars, real Barbie dolls, not Dollar Store Barbie dolls," Weeks recalled. "He didn't miss anybody. His heart was truly in this."
So what Lewis-Weeks had believed would be a moderate giveaway, turned out to be an "Oprah for little kids," she said, referencing the famed 2004 episode of "The Oprah WInfrey Show" when the host gave away cars to an entire studio audience.
"They thought it was going to be a couple of stuffed animals, not, 'And you get a bike, and you get a bike, and you get a bike,' like an 'Oprah' for little kids," Lewis-Weeks said.
Armstrong, who lives in nearby Penn Laird, Virginia, said he spent three months in jail as a young man for distribution of marijuana. He recalled seeing endless streams of inmates greeting each other like old friends, from other stints behind bars.
"It was like, `Hey I remember seeing you at such and such,' and I said to myself, 'This is nuts, I can't do this,' " he said. "I made a choice that I was not going to live like that."
Armstrong said he's been doing Christmas giveaways since December, 2013.