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By Riley Manning
TUPELO – On Friday, brother and sister Jeremy and Kendra White will see the final product of over two-and-a-half years spent working on their first feature-length film. “Summer Snow” marks the first feature film for the American Family Association as well.
The movie tells the story of Hallie, a young girl bent on performing small acts of kindness, while she and her father struggle to hold it together in the wake of her mother’s death.
“The mother was the spiritual leader of the family, and when she’s gone, the dad is the one left to pick up the pieces,” Kendra said. “We wanted to show a father trying to be Superman and failing. He learns through the movie that he can’t be everything.”
Jeremy said they set out to write a story about a family because everyone would have something to relate to. Once they set about defining the characters, he said the story practically wrote itself.
“We asked ourselves, ‘What’s this person like? What’s their job? What are their struggles?’ Once we got a feel on that, they really came off the page for us,” he said. “At its core, this story is really about a mother’s legacy, and how one life can make a huge difference.”
Kendra and Jeremy said they have been telling stories from an early age, and majored in film at Asbury Theological Seminary in their native Kentucky, where “Summer Snow” was shot. Kendra came to AFA in Tupelo in 2009, and Jeremy joined her in 2012.
“Before I came [to AFA], I worked at a church and produced children’s musicals that Kendra and I wrote together,” he said. “It was actually helpful in learning the things people respond and don’t respond to.”
Meanwhile, Kendra has put in work on a documentary, “Flame On,” and short film “Paper Dream,” but she said “Summer Snow” is her biggest accomplishment yet. While dealing with real-life issues, she said, the movie has been approved by the Dove Foundation as entertainment suitable for the whole family.
“If you’re faithful in the small things, the Lord will put you in charge of big things,” she said. “There are very few faith-based films that aren’t silly. It goes back to AFA’s roots to produce something positive that parents don’t have to worry about being inappropriate.”
“Summer Snow” will air on TRU TV and be released on DVD this fall. The official premier will take place on Friday at 7:20 p.m. at the Malco. However, the movie will be shown at various times on Friday and through the following week.
By Riley Manning
TUPELO – On the heels of last week’s 8 Days of Hope campaign come over 160 teenagers from across the South with the World Changers organization.
Through Friday, the volunteers from eight churches in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Missouri and Louisiana will work to revitalize substandard housing in Tupelo and Lee County. During the course of the week, the 16 crews will affect 18 work sites in work unrelated to the tornado recovery.
“They will be painting, siding, building handicap ramps, all kinds of things to these homes,” said World Changers media liaison Lauren Hicks.
“World Changers goes everywhere from Puerto Rico to California, and we’re really excited to be in Tupelo this week,” she said.
The Nashville-based ministry is an initiative of LifeWay Christian Resources. This will be their seventh year to visit Tupelo out of the 23 summers World Changers has been in operation.
According to Hicks, over 300,000 participants have volunteered with World Changers since its inception. On average, the organization will send groups to 90 cities each year with the goal of alleviating inadequate housing and living conditions.
“The key to World Changers is that it works with community and city organizations to get the needed supplies,” Hicks said. “For the Tupelo project, we’ve worked with the Lee County Baptist Association and gotten funding for materials from the city.”
In addition, volunteers pay on average $250 each for registration, housing, and travel expenses.
Volunteers with Eight Days of Hope have been working since last Saturday to clean debris and restore homes damaged by the April 28 tornado. Daily Journal reporter Riley Manning talked to the founder of the organization, Steve Tybor.
Q: Closing in on the last few days of the Eight Days of Hope Tupelo project, how has the campaign gone and what have been some high points?
A: Well, this has been a record-setting group. Never before, anywhere in the world, has a group of this size shown up at for disaster relief under a single organization. Our 42 leaders have been working fervently, staying at jobs until 10 p.m., working by the light of their vehicle headlights to get the task done. All in all, we’ve probably done between $5 million and $6 million worth of work. This is the work of God, we’re just glad to be a part of it.
Q: In closing out the project, how do you go about wrapping up the work being done?
A: So far, we’ve completely re-roofed 44 homes. Our main objective in the last two days is to get as much and as many roofs finished as possible so we can at least get the victims in the dry while they continue the recovery process. The trick to that is moving people and groups around in an efficient way and finish as many roofs as we can, one at a time.
Q: Earlier this week, you announced you’re going to assemble an immediate disaster response team. Tell us more about that.
A: By fall, I want the team in place where they can be anywhere in the country within 48 hours prepared to do chain saw work. One of our Eight Days of Hope ambassadors, Chris Childs, who also helped with our Build for Beth campaign, is moving to Tupelo from Beaver Dam, Virginia, to head the immediate disaster response full time. His salary will be underwritten by three different companies, the American Family Association being one of them. We’ve already had a $40,000 truck donated and we have a $70,000 budget to get our equipment. The response team will spend two weeks at a location and touch about eight homes each day – and may become a doorway to a full-blown Eight Days of Hope project.
By Riley Manning
TUPELO – For Tupelo native Jerry Bristow, St. James Catholic Church is the place he has called home his whole life. By his account, he’s the oldest living member of the church, and one of the few older Catholics born in the area.
“I’m content to live where life began,” he said.
Next week, the church will celebrate an entire century in Tupelo. For Bristow and other St. James members, the occasion commemorates not only history, but memory as well.
According to Bristow, the first Catholics to leave footprints in Northeast Mississippi did so in 1540, as Spanish and French forces explored the Mississippi River Valley. The first Catholic church wouldn’t be built in the area until 1861, with Annunciation Church in Columbus, pastored by French missionary Father John Bouton. He and his successors served Catholics between Meridian and the Tennessee line.
“Through these years when churches were scarce, traveling priests held Mass in folks’ houses,” Bristow said. “Most of the Catholics who settled in this area were from Irish descent.”
Dedicated in 1914, the original St. James was located at the corner of Magazine and Green streets. However, the church didn’t get its first resident pastor until 1919 with Father Robert Reitmeier. Reitmeier was charged with celebrating Mass in Aberdeen, Okolona, Corinth, Amory, and Pontotoc.
Reitmeier would stay for 33 years, in the meantime befriending Bristow in his high school years. The priest would celebrate Mass in Tupelo the first Sunday of the month, Saltillo the second Sunday, Aberdeen the third, and Okolona the fourth. A teenage Bristow was the one to chauffer him from place to place.
“He let me drive his ’35 model Studebaker coup, and I think he did his most devout praying when I was behind the wheel of that car,” Bristow said. “He was an interesting fellow, born in Munich in 1914. He had a a good ear for music.”
Reitmeier was a Benedictine, and after his retirement, the Benedictines based in Cullman, Alabama, continued to minister around Northeast Mississippi. They established parishes in Aberdeen and Corinth, each with satellite missions, so the pastor of St. James didn’t have as much ground to cover.
By the end of World War II, the St. James community had grown by more than 40 percent, and had outgrown the wooden church originally built to house about 100 congregants. The current church was dedicated in 1960, under the Rev. Clarence Meyer, the last Benedictine to serve St. James.
“The old church was torn down. That was the custom. A building that once served as a church couldn’t be used for anything else after,” Bristow said. “That church was about the only one on the block that wasn’t touched by the 1936 tornado, which I remember blew through on Palm Sunday.”
Since Reitmeier, St. James has been home to priests from Ireland, Lithuania, Chicago, and right here in Mississippi. Current priest, the Rev. Lincoln Dall, is the church’s 11th pastor.
“Every priest has their own style and way of doing things,” Bristow said. “But at St. James, I’ve always felt welcome and at home. It seems like through the years, no matter who the priest, everything has had a way of falling into place.”
Christi Houin is one of the many St. James members who migrated to the area from somewhere else, in her case, New Orleans. Moving from such a Catholic-centric locale to a diocese with one of the lowest percentages of Catholics in the country has actually encouraged her to learn more about her faith.
“One thing about coming from a majority Catholic place to a minority is that people will ask you a lot more questions about their faith because it isn’t common knowledge,” she said. “So you have to know what you’re talking about.”
Houin said she and her family immediately found St. James to be warm and active, with plenty of opportunities to act out their faith.
“Being Catholic is a huge part of our identity, and St. James always has different events to get involved with,” she said. “When people move here from other places, they do a great job of integrating new people with old ones.”
Dall agreed, and said one of his favorite things about St. James is its international flavor. Not only are his pews occupied by migrants from the north, brought to Tupelo by industry, but also by Vietnamese, Phillipino, and Spanish worshipers of various nationalities. Looking to the present, and to the next hundred years, Dall said the church planned on putting a lot of effort into its youth program.
“Young people like to really get out and do things, and that’s great for us as a church to be visible in the community,” he said. “And that’s what the pope wants us to do as priests as well. He wants us to ‘smell like the sheep,’ and by doing so, the church can remain relevant.”
St. James’ official 100th anniversary is July 29, but the church will celebrate on July 26 and 27. On the 26th, St. James will bus attendees to the Chickasaw Village to embark on a small hike, a miniature version of the Camino de Santiago, or “The Way of St. James.” On the 27th, Jackson Diocese Bishop Joseph Kopacz will celebrate the 10:30 a.m. Mass, followed by a luncheon, and the 4:30 p.m. Mass.
By Riley Manning
TUPELO – The weather did nothing to deter visitors from the opening of upscale pawn shop Choice Pawn on Friday.
Located in the former Super D pharmacy at the corner of West Main and Milford streets, the shop attracted hordes of visitors with guest Seth Gold, of truTV’s “Hardcore Pawn.”
“We met (Gold) at the National Pawn Broker’s Convention in Las Vegas a few weeks ago,” said Choice Pawn owner Luke Montgomery. “We got to know each other and the next thing you know he agreed to come down.”
The line to meet Gold stretched through the store and out of the door. “Hardcore Pawn” follows Seth and his family as they operate the largest pawn shop in Detroit.
Johnny Wiginton and Leonard Rogers waited patiently in line for an autograph. Both purported to be huge fans of the show.
“We watch it almost every night,” Wiginton said. “Even when the episodes are reruns. The family drama is fun to watch, and I like it when they bring in the experts on the stuff, especially instruments.”
“(Gold) is one wacky dude. The whole family is very entertaining,” Rogers said. “They’re cool people, and they’re real. They show how people really are.”
Montgomery said the Tupelo location is the second store, following the first in Fulton, in a 20-store plan reaching all the way to Louisville, Kentucky.
“The store speaks for itself, with its inventory and cleanliness,” Montgomery said. “We have some really great team members who know the products, most of which are lightly used, but some things we do get new from closeouts.”
Gold, who was voted broker of the year at the Las Vegas convention, said he was impressed at Choice Pawn’s goals.
“It’s definitely ambitious,” he said. “But pawn brokers have to think outside the box. When they asked me to come down from Detroit, it piqued my interest. It’s a great shop, and I figured why not come down and draw in some customers.”
By Riley Manning
TUPELO – Nearing the end of their eight-day mission, the Eight Days of Hope crews were in full swing Thursday, painting, hammering, nailing, roofing and doing anything else imaginable.
Rachel Rafener and Maddie Widder came to help out with their youth group from Sugarcree, Ohio. They’ve spent the week in a group of around 20 repairing houses on and around Eugene Street in the Joyner neighborhood.
“From Sunday through Tuesday, we laid the hardwood floor and corner rounds,” said Rafener, a first timer with Eight Days of Hope. “The people who live here can’t move back in until a fence has been put up, because they have two dogs, so we surprised them by building one. It’s been amazing.”
“There’s plenty of other trips we could have gone on this summer, but being a blessing to these homeowners has been so rewarding,” she said.
All in all, more than 3,000 volunteers have descended upon Tupelo with Eight Days of Hope, a Tupelo-based, all-volunteer national disaster relief ministry. The goal was to aid 165 uninsured and underinsured homeowners whose homes were affected by April’s tornado.
Jake Huber, of Ashland, Virginia, has spent the week helping rebuild the roof of a West Jackson Street home.
“We pretty much had to build this whole roof back. A limb fell through it, so we had to remove old shingles and replace some beams, then replace the boards and put on the shingle paper and now the shingles,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll finish this roof by tomorrow.”
Juliette Miller, of Bumpass, Virginia, lent a hand at the same site, and said around 150 homes had been touched by Eight Days of Hope so far.
“The first few days were slow because some of the volunteers were learning the new skills, but today things have been flying,” she said. “Another group came into paint and another came to put down carpet. Groups typically do just one job so they don’t have to slow down to keep learning new things.”
Miller is an Eight Days of Hope veteran, having served six prior campaigns, including the tornado in Smithville.
“Tupelo has had the most local volunteers out of any of them. It’s neat to see people helping their neighbors,” she said.
Perhaps the biggest site in the campaign is the complete rebuilding of an Old Saltillo Road home owned by Roy and Delilah Chandler. At one point, nearly 50 workers simultaneously worked to frame, lathe, and deck the new structure. Since the tornado, the Chandlers have stayed with family members in Baldwyn and Booneville, but Roy Chandler said there is no place like home.
“God has truly blessed Eight Days of Hope,” he said. “It’s humbling. I don’t feel like I deserve it, but the God I serve is awesome. It’s amazing that he brought all these people together to show their love.”
But Matthew Gleue and his two sons said they had received just as much as they had given, working to clear massive amounts of debris from around the Chandler home. Tupelo is the Paducah, Kentucky, family’s second Eight Days of Hope campaign.
“You know, throughout the year we’re mostly concerned about taking care of ourselves and getting the things we need,” he said. “But this is an opportunity to care for someone else and remember life isn’t all about you. That’s something I definitely want to instill in my boys.”
By Riley Manning
The cost of getting a child ready and equipped for the first day of school is no negligible sum.
To alleviate the stress of costly school supplies for families in need, the United Way will kick off its annual Back 2 School resource fair on Saturday.
The resource fair began in 2011, and took place in a single location. However, United Way campaign and communications associate Robin Matkin said last year each county served by the United Way of Northeast Mississippi held its own fair.
“It actually been easier doing it that way, financially, because since the money stays in the county it was donated in, more people are willing to give,” Matkin said.
Lee County’s fair will be July 19 in The Mall at Barnes Crossing in the space across from Charming Charlie’s. Kids will receive a backpack of their choosing stuffed with pencils, erasers, paper, glue, scissors, and other supplies, free of charge. In addition, there will be more than 30 booths set up by organizations like Healthworks! and Excel by 5 to administer free vision and health screenings.
“It’s not everything, but we hope it’s at least enough to get a student prepared to be there on the first day,” Matkin said. “And they’re doing more than getting school supplies. A lot of the booths are fun activities for them to do, as well.”
Matkin said each stuffed backpack costs $12.50. Overall, the United Way will hand out 4,000 backpacks in the seven counties. She said anyone qualifies to receive a backpack. The only questions they will ask, she said, is what county the child is from and if they are on free and reduced lunch. The child receiving the backpack must be present.
By Riley Manning
TUPELO – Verona Elementary School Principal Temeka Shannon was recognized recently by the U.S. Department of the Secretary of Defense for going above and beyond in her support of the U.S. military.
Shannon has made accommodations for her second-grade teacher, Martisa Braylock, to miss the start of the school year in order to travel to San Antonio for nine weeks to achieve the rank of first lieutenant in the Army Reserves.
Last year was Braylock’s first as a full-fledged teacher, having spent four years in the reserves and another 14 on active duty.
“[Shannon] has just done such a great job of being there and being supportive,” Braylock said. “It’s a lot of work to fill in for.”
Lt. Col. Gregory Clark, commander of the 7242nd medical support unit, presented Shannon with the award at last week’s Lee County School Board meeting.
“It was a pleasure to make the trip to present this award,” Clark said. “Employers like her are what allows us to do our job in the Reserve.”
Shannon said she was honored to receive the distinction, and didn’t mind working around Braylock’s schedule. The principal said Braylock wasn’t the first service member she’d had under her employ, but Braylock’s role as a teacher was a difficult one to cover for.
“She must be replaced with a certified teacher, comparable in skill, but luckily we’ve already secured a retired teacher to hold us over until she gets back,” Shannon said. “It’s definitely worth the effort. Students see her actions as a role model. Plus, parents and the community respect someone who gives back.”
By Riley Manning
TUPELO – More than 3,000 volunteers from 37 states descended Saturday upon areas touched by April’s tornado to mend homes, and attitudes.
“We’re thankful they’re here. So much has been done already, but there’s still so much left,” said Joan Lansdell, a Joyner neighborhood resident for more than 30 years. “And these people know what they’re doing. They help my feelings as much as they help my house.”
Eight Days of Hope founder Steve Tybor addressed the volunteers early Saturday morning, telling them to prepare to be good listeners and open themselves to the tornado victims and the community.
“We’re expecting God to do some great things in the next eight days,” he said. “Remember who you represent. The best sermon I ever heard was the one I saw.”
Tupelo will be the Christian initiative’s 11th project since its first effort in 2005 following Hurricane Katrina. That campaign, according to Eight Days of Hope ambassador Sonshine Ashcraft, was thought to have done well by drawing just 600 volunteers. This time around, she said, half of the volunteers are first-time participants, and 800 of them come from the local area.
“For disaster victims, we help bring them some hope,” she said. “And for the volunteers, its a really grounding experience. There’s a job for everybody, even if its something like making sandwiches for lunch or cleaning up after the larger group has left.”
Over the next week, volunteers will come to the aid of 165 uninsured and underinsured homeowners. They also will work to improve city parks and to remove fallen timber behind the damaged American Legion post.
For Louisiana volunteer John Troyer, Tupelo will be his second run with Eight Days of Hope, but not his last.
“It’s amazing to see the impact on the affected families. For me, it’s coming and seeing what God has for me to do,” he said.
Oklahoma volunteer Aaron Jennings is a bit more seasoned. Tupelo is his fifth Eight Days of Hope project.
“The people they have in place make it so easy to just be able to show up and get to work,” he said. “The church gets a bad rap these days, and this is a great opportunity to come out and show who we really are.”
By Riley Manning
CORINTH – The scorching heat at Corinth’s 27th annual Slugburger Festival may have kept the lines to rides and games short, but it didn’t dampen the crowd gathered to watch this year’s slugburger eating contest.
For two years straight, reigning slugburger champ Matt Stonie faced off against professional eater Joey Chestnut, fresh off wins at Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July hot dog eating contest in Coney Island.
Chestnut and Stonie are ranked as the No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, competitive eaters in the world by Major League Eating, the governing and sanctioning body over, in the words of MLE announcer Sam Barclay, “stomach-centric sports.”
This year is the third year the MLE has sanctioned the Slugburger Festival, where seven contestants consume as many doughy burgers as they can in 10 minutes. Last year, Stonie edged out Chestnut by just one burger, consuming 31 sandwiches. This year, he again claimed victory by a one-burger margin, only this time he managed to cram in 43 total.
“I usually catch people at the end, but not this time,” Chestnut said. “I thought I was ready to win. The slugburger’s texture is different from almost anything else.”
Stonie said the rivalry is a friendly one, and the Slugburger Festival is one of his favorite events.
“[Chestnut] and I push each other. It’s a whirlwind, and I just try to push the pace,” Stonie said. “The Slugburger Festival was my first competitive win, so it’s great to keep the title.”
Both eaters said the slugburger is an interesting cultural oddity of food, but if you’re wondering why the soy-and-meat patty is called a “slugburger,” you have to ask a Corinth native.
“The slugburger is a depression burger,” said Corinth resident Larry King. “It’s usually made with soy meal and beef, but sometimes pork. There’s obviously no slugs in it. They call it that because slugburgers used to cost five cents, and they used to call a nickel a ‘slug.’”
Perhaps nobody knows slugburgers better than the folks at Borroum’s downtown pharmacy in Corinth. They produced the 250 sandwiches to be used in the contest. Debbie Mitchell, who helped man the fryers at Borroum’s store’s booth, said their recipe used pork, soy, flour and a few secret spices.
“I don’t know what the spices are,” she said. “But the best way to eat them is with pickle, onion and mustard.”