Dozens of children receive early Christmas

Published 2:42 pm Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The room was filled with laughter, giggles and excitement as dozens of children gathered in the meeting room of Resurrection Life Worship Center Monday night to prepare to shop for Christmas gifts they might not have otherwise received. Each child, paired with a either a Picayune Memorial High School football player, a Pride of the Tide dance team member or a church youth member, had been handed a $50 gift card to spend at Wal-Mart.

“This is our first year,” said Danny Jones, youth pastor, adding that he had been working on bringing the program together for more than a year. The event, unlike similar holiday toy programs that buy from wish lists or provide random gifts, allowed the children the excitement of shopping themselves.

“I contacted Jon (Stinchcomb) and he got the Saints’ sponsorship and players together,” said Jones. Stinchcomb, #78 for the Saints, is well-known for his community and educational interests and was recently named New Orleans Saints Walter Payton Man of the Year.

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Jones said that while some of the funds for the gift cards came from the Saints’ sponsorship, other funds were raised by church members and members of the community. “Some people went out and brought the gift cards and just gave them to us,” said Jones.

For Alison Martin, the idea of a shopping spree had her two boys, Keshaune and Kenyon, wound up with excitement. “They’re pretty excited,” said Martin as she watched the two boys toss a basketball with their shopping buddies. “This is good for them.”

As the time to leave for shopping drew near, Jones called for everyone to gather in the front of the meeting room and reminded the youngsters to stay close to their shopping buddies and to make sure they each had their gift card. “And have a good time,“ said Jones.

Then everyone filed out of the church to make the short ride to Wal-Mart, and once there, quickly spread through-out the store. While some shopped for a gift to give their parents, and others browsed through clothes, the majority of the youngsters headed directly to the toy department.

Jamie, Jonah, and Jeremiah Reid, paired with PMHS football players Chris Burton, #20, and Jerrod Jones, #12, stood mesmerized in front of the dozens of toy trucks, loaders and bulldozers. Jamie had no trouble deciding on his purchases while Jeremiah deliberated between two — a John Deere tractor and a John Deere bulldozer. Jonah carefully studied all his choices before choosing two different trucks.

The three boys, accompanied by their parents Monica and Kenny, had driven from Poplarville for the shopping excursion. “I heard about (the program) from FEMA,” said Monica, whose son, Jonah, is autistic.

The children weren’t the only ones enjoying themselves. The student volunteers also were having a good time.

“I heard about it and really wanted to do it,” said Burton, as his arms filled up with toys. “It feels really good.”

Jones said the 59 children that participated in the shopping event were all recommended by members of the community and the church.

“People in the community told us about the families,” said Jones. “There are some parents with cancer, some have been laid off, some that would not be able to provide anything for Christmas, so we called and invited them.”

After the kids were done shopping, everyone returned to the church to meet Stinchcomb and fellow Saints player Chris Reis, # 39. There, after giving personal testimonials, the two Saints players put on a short play for the kids and their families.

“They did a skit about how Christ is the true gift,” Jones said. “We tried to tie the skit in with them getting their gifts.”

Commenting that it felt “terrific” to be able to do this for the families, Jones said, “It was a huge success for the families. For some parents this is the only Christmas they will be able to give. I feel completely blessed.”

To participate or donate for next year’s event, contact Resurrection Life Worship Center at 601-798-4511.