Holiday Donations Should Bring Christmas Cheer

There are so many children on the coast who lost so much after Katrina. Their homes got washed away. And so did their favorite toys. Amazingly, people around the country haven't forgotten those children. They keep sending holiday gifts to local charities.

And they arrived just in the nick of time, because a week ago, Ellyn Minor was sorting through holiday assistance applications. Her Back Bay Mission committee had to determine which families could use a little Christmas cheer.

"We were sort of like ugh, there are a lot of kids. We don't know what's going to happen," she remembered.

Suddenly, the phone rang. It was a church from Ohio offering to be one of Santa's elves.

"We said sure," Minor said. "Well they pulled up with a pickup truck and opened the back of it and there were toys."

Dozens of toys. Stuffed animals. Bikes. Games. They were all piled in small room at Our Lady of Fatima Church.

As the volunteers were unloading their motorized sleigh, the phone rang again. Another church had $1,000 in department store gift certificates it wanted to send to Biloxi. Minor was shocked.

"It just seems like Thanksgiving hit and everything started to roll in," she said.

Because of the generosity of strangers, 600 south Mississippi children will receive Christmas gifts from the Back Bay Mission and Fatima church.

Mary Frances Ford is with the church. She's in charge of the gifts in storage.

"It's wonderful. It's incredible. It's a great blessing to us to be able to do this," she said.

Fatima used to put together its own gift giveaway program. And it would help about 200 children. After Katrina, the need tripled. And donations lagged. So, the church got together with the Back Bay Mission. And out-of-town donations started pouring in.

"I understood that the help we got last year was new and extraordinary," said Ford. "It had never happened before and that it was only the result of Hurricane Katrina. And so I'm very impressed that it's happening again this year. And I'm very concerned that this may be the last year. But we're going to try to keep it going as long as we can, and help as many people as we can."

That generosity extends beyond the Back Bay Mission, Fatima partnership. For example, the Salvation Army found 8,000 families in its post Katrina data base who qualify for holiday help. Many of the gifts that go to those families will come from the Marine Corps Toys for Tots campaign.

Sgt. Shannon Sweeney is the regional coordinator of Toys for Tots.

"People are generous," she said. "But they need to understand there is still a need. There is usually more of a need than there is donations."

That's been especially true since Katrina. However, as the toys stored in the church warehouse room clearly indicate, the need is being met by strangers who won't let a hurricane destroy a child's Christmas.

"It's amazing how often that we ask for things and it does happen, and that people still realize how bad it is down here on the gulf coast," said Minor.

Don't forget, the Salvation Army has angel trees set up around south Mississippi. And the names of 10,000 children are on those trees. The Salvation Army is hoping you'll choose a name and buy a gift, so that child has something special to open on Christmas.