This is the time of year when the Salvation Army’s bell-ringers don their Santa hats and offer a smile and a “thank you” to area shoppers. The money they collect supports the organization’s programs throughout the year, including meals for the hungry and the homeless shelter.
Throughout Lee, Union, Prentiss and Monroe counties the organization needs 18 ringers each day.
This year, Tupelo High School senior Lizzie Brevard and her fellow National Honor Society students will be ringing the bells outside Sam’s Club in Tupelo.
School clubs and church youth groups are great talent pools for volunteers and, for Brevard, who volunteered last year, the experience reminds of her of seeing her parents put money in the buckets when she was a child.
“Tupelo is a great, hospitable community and it’s important for young people to help out,” she said.
The Salvation Army also brightens the holidays for area children through the Christmas Angel Tree. Last year 1,850 kids who otherwise would have gotten nothing received presents.
The trees, which are located at The Mall at Barnes Crossing and the Baldwyn Chamber of Commerce, as well as at Old Navy and Walmarts in Tupelo and New Albany, contain tags with the names of children ages 1-12.
To adopt an angel, folks can take a tag, then buy a gift of $50-75 and return it to the tree by Dec. 12.
Volunteers are needed to staff the trees and to collect the gifts.
The Salvation Army makes it easy to give while shopping, but many of the elderly don’t enjoy the mobility to go out to area stores.
This holiday season people might consider dropping by a retirement home and asking how they can help. It could be as simple as asking which resident seldom gets a visitor.
“We certainly encourage that,” said Becky Haley, an administrative assistant at Traceway Manor in Tupelo.
“It’s so simple that sometimes people just don’t think of it. The fellowship is what really matters.”
Sonya Bennett, program director for Cedars Health Care Center, said people could adopt an elderly person for the holidays, bringing them gifts and paying them visits to boost their spirits.
Youth groups or civic organizations should call ahead, but anybody can stop in unannounced and visit for a while.
Tupelo Meals on Wheels is another venue for helping seniors and shut-ins.
Volunteers Jimmy Young and his wife, Helen, recently made the rounds in Tupelo’s Park Hill neighborhood. At one stop they delivered a plate of pork chops, cabbage and cornbread to 90-year-old Lillie Mae Vaughn.
The Youngs’ church, St. Paul United Methodist, works with four other churches to deliver meals along the route five days a week.
Vaughn beamed as the Youngs brought in her plate. “Oh, it’s just a beautiful thing,” she said, patting Jimmy on the hand.
“It’s nice to visit with the people and the food is excellent.”
Meals on Wheels employs only one full-time person, said director Linda Moses. More than 300 volunteers make the operation run, delivering meals from places like Todd’s Downtown Deli in Tupelo, and Ms. Ruth’s Diner in Verona.
“Gas, electricity and the cost of living is so high these days, especially for the elderly, that a hot meal every day helps a lot,” said Moses. She can always use volunteers with good driving records.
Those who can’t get out and obtain food for themselves can be added to the delivery list by calling the Meals on Wheels offices at Traceway Manor.
For those who find themselves short on grocery money, food pantries are ready to help. Pantries coordinate their efforts and try to serve their respective areas without overlapping.
Some pantries distribute monthly, like FAITH Food Pantry in Nettleton, on the third Saturday of each month, and St. Francis Food Pantry in Aberdeen, on the third Friday.
Others, like St. Luke United Methodist Food Pantry in Tupelo, distribute each Thursday. All the pantries are happy to have volunteers as well as donations of canned food.
Helping Hands is a collaborative effort of eight Tupelo churches that distributes food every Saturday.
In October, Helping Hands served 1,806 needy people, and more than 200 of them were new clients, people who, according to organizer Otis Tims, recently had their hours cut or lost their jobs.
Those in need can come to Helping Hands once a month for clothing, groceries and even a little pastoral advice.
“People often just need someone to talk to,” said Tims. “We try to give them hope, and we take their prayer requests.”
On a recent Tuesday morning, Laverne Prince and a handful of ladies sorted through donations inside the Church Street headquarters. They raised and lowered loads of clothes down the staircase with a nylon rope.
“This time of year we can sure use donations of toys and children’s clothes,” said Prince, carrying a garbage bag full of smoky clothes to the washer.
It takes around 30 volunteers to make Helping Hands work each week, and although many come from places like Tupelo’s First United Methodist Church, anyone is welcome to show up and lend a hand. There’s plenty of sorting, folding, sacking and registering to go around.
They say there’s no such thing as a free lunch, but the owners of Cravin’ Catfish in Sherman beg to differ. Thanksgiving Day they’ll be serving up traditional fare like ham, chicken and dressing and mashed potatoes, free of charge.
Owners Gerald and Becky Hegan are deeply grateful for the success of their business, especially in a bad economy, and they’re giving back to the community by feeding those who are hungry and alone.
On a recent Friday night, Gerald Hegan smiled as he looked over his crowded dining room. “We’re just down home people and God has been very good to us,” he said.
The buffet will be open from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m.
Last year The Salvation Army fed 2,600 on Thanksgiving Day, mostly at the Carnation Street headquarters, as well as in prisons and the hospital. They even fed those who had to work on the holiday. They spent $5,000 just on utensils and groceries, not including the turkeys.
This year, between 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. the organization plans to feed at least 3,000. Director of social services Susan Gilbert said that in the bad economy, the organization is trying to feed more clients on fewer resources, and it’s impossible to overstate the importance of individual donations.
In Fulton, a restaurant is joining hands with The Salvation Army to make sure nobody goes hungry on Thanksgiving. Starting at 11 a.m. Rick’s Barbecue will serve free lunches to the needy, and takeouts are available.
Temple of Compassion and Deliverance is heading up a group of Tupelo churches putting on another big feed this year, both on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Last year “Christians on the Move to Evangelize” delivered meals to 1,500 hungry people in Pontotoc, Union, Itawamba, Lee and Prentiss counties.
“COME” works with organizations like the Tupelo Housing Authority to identify people in need.
The effort is funded strictly by donations and last year it spent $4,500 on the Thanksgiving meal. Volunteers are always needed to drive and to cook. Financial support is also welcomed.
In addition to the meal, COME assists the poor in paying for their medications, and youth from the coalition churches visit nursing homes.
“We see what we do as helping reach those others can’t, those that fall between the cracks,” said Bishop Clarence Parks of Temple of Compassion and Deliverance.
“Nobody should be without a meal and a kind word this time of year.”
Contact Daily Journal religion editor Galen Holley at (662) 678-1510 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal