There's need, still

By Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Charitable giving is part of Tupelo’s DNA, but as Christmas approaches there are needs yet to be filled.
There are still angels among us – old and young. Throughout Northeast Mississippi, those angels have been symbolized by ornaments hanging on Christmas trees.
Despite its own financial woes, the Salvation Army this year set out to make a merry Christmas for 1,000 area children. The annual Angel Tree went up at seven area locations in late November, but with time ticking down there are still kids whose wishes haven’t been fulfilled.
“We’re running a little later than usual,” said Susan Gilbert, director of social services. Every year the Army buys gifts for the angels who don’t get adopted. No child goes without, but as the trees come down today there are more remaining ornaments than last year, and folks who’ve already adopted angels are taking more time bringing in their gifts.
“It’s cause for concern, but we’re not panicking,” said Gilbert.
She estimated that a little more than a quarter of the folks who adopted angels have brought back their gifts, and 200 angels were never plucked from the tree. The staging area for the gifts is the Tupelo Furniture Market, Building V, and the empty spots on the floor show how many children are yet to have their Christmas wishes fulfilled.
Thursday, Janie Smith of the Salvation Army Women’s Auxiliary brought in a load of gifts for children ages 10-12, the group in the greatest need as Christmas approaches. She stacked footballs and basketballs, and arranged a few gifts according to the family’s number codes on the floor.
“One way or the other, we’ll make sure every child gets something,” she said, checking numbers and searching the floor for spots. “We sure could use some help, though.”
In an average year the Salvation Army spends $100,000 taking up the slack, but the past couple of years have been anything but average. Need has gone up as the ability to meet those needs has gone down, and the organization can’t afford a big price tag this year.
At the Chick-Fil-A restaurant on Thompson Square in Tupelo they call their angels golden – golden, as in the polite euphemism for elderly. Whereas the Salvation Army provides gifts for the young, ages birth through 12 years, the restaurant is collecting gifts for senior citizens.
Owners Jamey and Trina Finley, members of Lawndale Presbyterian Church, put up the seniors’ angel tree each year because they believe society too often overlooks the needs of the elderly.
Each year the Finleys gather names of needy residents from five area nursing homes. They never ask for anything expensive – socks, housecoats and batteries, for example. It isn’t much, only about $30 per angel, but, according to the Finleys, it means the world to elderly folks who otherwise probably wouldn’t have anything to open.
The golden angel tree comes down today, and all the angels have been adopted. Unfortunately, folks sometimes take angels off the tree and don’t bring back gifts. In years past the Finleys have bought gifts themselves, but they’re hoping an area business or church might step in this year.
Food and shelter
Most Southern Baptist churches are doing outreach this Christmas, but some are undertaking projects in which everybody can help.
The folks at First Baptist Church Saltillo are taking Jesus’ words in Matt. 25: 35 literally this holiday season. They’ve set out to feed the hungry.
Since before Thanksgiving members have been collecting food and stacking it in the sanctuary, right up front, so folks in the pews can see it. It’s becoming a virtual mountain of good will. On Dec. 22, instead of worshiping in the church, they’ll deliver the food to the hungry of Lee County.
According to the Rev. Marc Howard, who’s been filling the pulpit since the departure of the church’s senior pastor in October, the mountain of food is big, but not big enough.
“There are plenty of hungry people out there, and people who are struggling to pay their grocery bills. This is one way of showing them the face of Christ,” said Howard.
Canned foods and cereals, as well as household items, like cleaning supplies, are welcome contributions to the mountain. Volunteers are also needed on the evening of Dec. 22 to help deliver the goods in a pre-Christmas, Santa’s sleigh ride of giving.
In order to get nestled all snug in their beds, lots of folks turn on their space heaters around Christmas. Unfortunately, some of those heaters cause fires. Household fires increase exponentially during the winter months, according to Patty Tucker, director of the Northeast Mississippi chapter of the American Red Cross. Throughout the year, the Red Cross responds to an average of five home fires per day in Mississippi, but last month alone the Northeast Mississippi chapter, which serves 16 counties, assisted 22 families who’d been burned out.
Heaters aren’t the only culprits. So are unattended ovens and stoves. What starts as a holiday meal turns into a catastrophe.
Throughout this month the Red Cross is encouraging individuals, churches and businesses to “Friend a Fire Family.” Due to confidentiality, donors won’t be able to single out a beneficiary, like the Angel Tree, but for a donation of $1,200 they’ll help a family that’s endured a house fire get back on its feet. The Red Cross will use the money whenever and wherever it’s needed.
“A hotel room, clothes, all the necessities, just until they’re able to get themselves stable,” said Tucker.
Contact Galen Holley at 678-1510 or

Help needed all around
– Other area nonprofits need help this Christmas, and gifts of time and talents, as well as goods, are always welcome.
The Tupelo-Lee Humane Society, 2400 S. Gloster St., needs animal supplies like shampoo, dry food and cleaning products. This time of year it also needs blankets and space heaters to keep the critters warm. The shelter is home to some 230 dogs and cats. The staff also welcomes folks to come by and just play with the animals and give them some time out of their cages.
The Lee-Itawamba Public Library could use help in keeping enough new best-sellers on hand. Current titles in DVDs, CDs and books are always needed. According to director Jan Willis, the budget was tight this year and it’s been hard to keep multiple copies of the hottest titles around. Please call first to check on what’s needed. (662) 841-9027.
Northeast Mississippi Habitat for Humanity needs volunteers in finishing two houses for local partners in need. One house is on Coleman Circle in Belden, and the other is on the 200 block of Lumpkin Ave., in Tupelo. No special skills, tools or experience are needed. Habitat can also use donations of unused building materials. Call (662) 842-4675.

Click video to hear audio