So why give away bicycles?
A promotional brochure for Liberty County Bicycles for Christmas puts it this way:
``We use bicycles as a simple, yet profound tool to help convert hopelessness, building up children's spirits and helping them develop the confidence to succeed. We're changing lives for the better, one bike at a time.''
Mr. Milam provides a slightly different take on this.
``It allows transportation and transportation is important,'' he said, especially if a child is stuck in one place and has no means of getting to where something might be a little bit better, or where he or she could play with a better group of friends. ``That's one of the biggest reasons I chose bicycles.
``It gives them the access to get out of an environment, even if it's two blocks or three blocks away. (It gives them) the opportunity to ride a bicycle to school or the opportunity to go to school.''
And it does give hope, too.
``If they don't have anything and all of sudden they have a brand new shiny bicycle, their self esteem goes up a little bit. If you can reach enough of the poor and they all have a good Christmas, it puts them on a higher level.''
Thank-you letters show this to be true.
``On Dec. 22, 2006, God sent us angels,'' one family wrote. ``I think of you all every day. Thank you is so inadequate to say to those who have given back hope to a family in distress. God bless you all. Thanks for making a difference.''
Just as Mr. Milam has his reasons for why he chose bicycles, he's also particular about the toys the organization gives away. He won't provide things like DVD players or CDs, something parents might take away or pawn. Nor does he provide toys that can be used indoors.
What he likes are things that a ``child can get the most out of and adults the least out of.''
Following this line of reasoning, Mr. Milam also is working on a plan to provide a full year of school supplies to those receiving bicycles.
Doing this, he said, would make it easier on the parents who would not be burdened with this expense.
Involving the county
Mr. Milam's dream for Liberty County Bicycles for Christmas is to extend the program throughout Liberty County.
Covering 1,300 square miles, it is the fifth-largest county in the U.S. but has only about 85,000 residents. Like many large sparsely populated areas, though, it has an overabundance of people who are needy. ``You either seem to be doing OK in Liberty County or you're struggling,'' Mr. Milam said.
In addition to Liberty, a city of 12,000, the county has two other large communities, Dayton and Cleveland, but because of their distance from each other, each entity tends to operate separately.
He sees Liberty County Bicycles for Christmas as a way of bringing these communities closer together at least once a year.
``We try to get everybody involved,'' he said.
So far he seems to be succeeding.
Besides the record number of children writing letters to Santa, the 2006 event drew hundreds of volunteers from throughout the county, and he received the support of many of the county's civil service departments as well as the local ROTC.
``This is one of those things that draws the communities together,'' Sheriff Arthur said.
As he prepares for the 2007 version of Liberty County Bicycles for Christmas, Mr. Milam has set for himself another goal.
He wants to revamp Children's Protective Services (CPS) so that it can care for more foster children. His idea is to build a large facility for boys and girls similar to the boys' homes where he grew up.
These homes were Christian-based and government-funded, he said, and provided residents with the basics: ``You get up and make your bed, eat your breakfast and go to school, come home, do your chores, do your homework, spend some free time, go to bed and start over,...the way it should be in a working world.''
Mr. Milam envisions developing a large complex on at least 100 acres that would have 40 to 50 homes, each capable of housing up to 20 children.
He'd like to see this happen in the next five years and said he believes there is support for his idea.
``If God blesses me and I can do more, I am going to revamp CPS, and the only way to revamp CPS is to have more room for foster children,'' he said. ``That's their main problem. They have too many children and not enough adoptive parents.''