HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - It all started 20 years ago with an idea and a meeting of some community leaders. Gulfport's Mayor Ken Combs and its Police Chief George Payne met with Councilman Jimmie Jenkins, Reverend Harry Tart and Sheriff Joe Price.
They wanted to figure out a way for every person in Harrison County to get hot food and a warm hug on Christmas morning. From that meeting in 1989 came "Harrison County's Feed The Needy."
Since the program's inception they have touched an estimated 50,000 lives with their generosity and compassion on Christmas and Thanksgiving day now. That's why we honor the founders and all of the many, many volunteers who make "Harrison County Feed The Needy" possible. They are South Mississippi Heroes.
You see all these people in the assembly lines. They're talking, and at Christmas, they're singing Christmas carols.
The joyous atmosphere at the Harrison County Sheriff's Department's "Feed The Needy Program" is what strikes Supervisor Windy Swetman every year. He started volunteering there, when he was just a kid.
Now a Harrison County Supervisor, Windy Swetman says, "I was just a young police explorer at the Gulfport Police Department, and I just did what I was told. And that's how I started doing it."
16 years later he still goes to pack and deliver hot meals and fellowship on Thanksgiving and Christmas mornings. He says this amazing program was started 20 years ago, by some very compassionate people who wanted everyone to experience the joy and love the holidays bring.
"You know they say you lead by example, and the men that are here with me today, they were a great example of what you should do, service," Swetman says.
Some who've been involved since the beginning are still leading by example like former Councilman Jimmy Jenkins, Gulfport P.D.'s Alfred Sexton and Police Chief Wayne Payne.
Wayne Payne says, "We all came together, and we started doing this so many years ago. And it's just lasted and it's grown. Once again I can't say enough about the true heroes is the ones that come in, come in and volunteer their time and the children, to watch the children come up once again on Christmas day and not open those presents but want to come to feed the needy, to help."
It is the volunteers who warm Jimmie Jenkins' heart and the small miracles he sees almost every year. When he came up with the idea, he never dreamed it would be so successful.
"I didn't, I didn't, I mean some years, some times, we think we can't do it for thanksgiving. We have to cut one out, but you know the Lord has a way to bring things," Jimmie Jenkins says. "Some anonymous donor come forward with a donation, and we've been able to do it."
And to people like 79-year-old Mary Braun, the program was a lifesaver. Last November, after a hip replacement, she came home from the hospital to an empty house and broken refrigerator with spoiled food. She called "Feed The Needy" and Windy Swetman showed up at her door.
"Yes, he came. I says bring two, hee hee," Mary Braun giggles. "You remember that, hee hee, and he brought me two. And at least I had something to eat."
They say they are happy to oblige any special requests.
Alfred Sexton says, "So what we started to do, especially with our seniors, is we learned years ago, that one meal wasn't enough, so we take them two. That way they have one for lunch and one for dinner that night, so there's things we've learned over the years that help us make sure that our citizens don't go hungry on these two special days."
To get your name on the list for food to be delivered or to find out more about how you can get involved in helping call the Harrison County Sheriff's Department 228-896-0606.