By Adam Armour/The Itawamba County Times
Each year, the members of Itawamba County-based club the Northeast Mississippi Radio Amateurs pick out their own Christmas present. This is a bit more in line with the spirit of the season than it first sounds.
This time of year each year, rather than throwing a party or exchanging gifts with each other, club members pull together to support a local cause. This year, the group is sponsoring an Itawamba County family — providing them with gifts, clothing, food and anything else they may need for the holidays. This isn’t some grand gesture — providing for one family certainly isn’t going to change the world. But to club members, it exemplifies the true spirit of the season.
“It’s easy to give to a large organization, but so much of the time those groups overshadow local need,” said club president Jeff Clingan.
Although that’s fine and dandy, the club wanted to stay focused on supporting local people. They wanted to support something smaller and more personal.
“We just desired to keep our support local and work for our community,” he said.
The idea to host an annual Christmas event originated seven years ago, when one of the group’s members proposed turning the club’s focus outward instead of inward.
“As amateur radio operators, one of the things we do is give back to our community,” Clingan said. “Several years ago, the club discussed what we would do for Christmas. One of the members suggested we look at doing something in the community rather than having a party centered around the club members.”
Obviously, the idea went over well.
“The first year gave us such a great feeling, one of our club members said, ‘Now that’s what Christmas is all about,’” Clingan said.
The group begins planning for a big Christmas event as early as August or September. Because the club only meets once a month, things tend to move quickly.
“We have to decide what we are going to do and move towards that goal,” Clingan said.
This year — as has been the case several times in the past — the project involves helping a family out for Christmas. Families are chosen with the help of contacts the group has made with local law enforcement agencies over the years … people who are out among the public on a daily basis and see families who may need a helping hand.
“Our members, along with contacts inside of local law enforcement, usually make this part of the project happen quickly,” Clingan said of selecting a family. “Then it’s all about research, how many children, what ages, boy or girls, clothing sizes, what do they like and any other info about the family we can get. After that it’s just about bringing everything together and making it happen, gifts, food, schedules, etc.”
“After several years the club is becoming much better at the process,” Clingan added. “As they say: practice makes perfect.”
Although the group has returned to family sponsorship several times over the past seven years, the shape of the group’s annual Christmas project isn’t necessarily set in stone. For example, one year the club participated in a Christmas celebration at a local community living center.
The only solid objective, Clingan said, is it has to be in line with the spirit of Christmas. It’s about turning away from selfishness and focusing on being with others … being a part of a community.
“The group really enjoys participating in this,” Clingan said. “It’s a wonderful experience; this project is supported by all of our members through planning, working and giving to make it happen … and the reaction of the families varies from stunned to overwhelming excitement. We never know what to expect.”
Really, those are the best kinds of gifts: The unexpected ones.