Holiday toy, food campaigns begin

By Trang Pham-Bui - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - It was an early Christmas surprise. Donated presents arrived this week at the St. Vincent de Paul Society at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Biloxi. The gifts will go to needy children this Christmas.

"Oh, they're wrapped even," a volunteer commented.

Elves are already hard at work sorting food for gift baskets, and getting the word out about the Angel Tree Program. Over the last six months, the number of people who have signed up for rent, utilities, and food has doubled. That's why the organization expects to see a dramatic increase in the number of people who apply for holiday help this year.

"It's really kind of frightening, that's what we're saying to ourselves," said Mary Frances Ford, President of the Fatima St. Vincent de Paul Society. "We're hearing the economy is going to get worse, and we're asking ourselves how we're going to deal with that."

And for the first time in 25 years, the organization won't provide Thanksgiving baskets.

"We could spend our funds on Thanksgiving baskets, but with so many people needing help with more basic needs like rent, utilities and food, we've just decided that we were going to not do Thanksgiving baskets this year," said Ford.

The sinking economy is also a concern for the Salvation Army. On Thursday, the organization teamed up with Sonic and Wal-mart to kick off a campaign to collect food and toys for the needy.

"We know the economic turndown is causing everybody some difficult things. We know there is a desperate need for food across the Gulf Coast," said Major Will Cundiff, Area Commander of The Salvation Army.

Every month, more than two million customers walk into Wal-mart stores along the Mississippi Gulf Coast and Sonic restaurants in the area get about 300,000 customers at month. If a small percentage of those customers pitch in and donate, it'll go a long way in helping families this holiday season.

"We found that whenever there's desperate need, and we make it known to the people, they always come through," said Cundiff. "We're going to see that they have Thanksgiving, Christmas, food on the table and toys under the tree."

The Salvation Army Food and Toy Drive will continue through the end of December. Collection cans and boxes are set up at local Sonic restaurants and Walmart stores.  And if you would like to donate to the St. Vincent de Paul Society at Fatima, call (228) 388-1837.