November 30, 2012 10:02:51 AM
The holiday season can be a time of joy and wonder, but for many, it can also be a time of despair and frustration for those in need of toys for their children, clothes, food and even shelter. To make their holidays a bit brighter, many Lowndes County residents are joining together to volunteer and give back to the community.
The distinctive sound of a Salvation Army bell has become almost as synonymous with Christmas as Santa Claus. And the money dropped in the red kettles is used to help Lowndes County residents all year long.
"We start accepting applications for toys for children in October," Salvation Army Maj. Tonya Roberts said. "We are helping more than 800 children this year. We have so many that we can't accept any more families. We are also helping over 300 families with clothing for the holidays. We are at our limit. We do, however, still have some slots available for senior citizens that need food."
Roberts said the organization is still accepting cash and toy donations for the area's needy children.
"If someone wants to help a needy child in the area with Christmas, the best way to do this is to adopt an angel," Roberts said. "We have Angel Trees at Leigh Mall and at Walmart. All you have to do is pick an angel from the tree. It will have everything written on it that the child needs. When accepting the applications for the children, we check income to make sure the child is actually needy. We will be hosting a 'Fill The Truck' day at the Walmarts in Columbus and West Point on Saturday, Dec. 8. We encourage everyone that can to purchase a toy and place it in the truck for our toy drive. You can also make cash or toy donations at our office at 2219 Main Street."
Another organization seeking donations for the holiday needy in Lowndes County is the Happy Christmas Fund, started by the late George "Happy" Irby Sr.
"We accept donations all year long," George Irby Jr. said. "What we do is buy clothing for the homeless students in Lowndes County and give it to them at Christmas. We will do our shopping on Dec. 20, so there is still time for people to make donations."
While students or young people are not often thought of as homeless, Irby said it is a real problem in Lowndes County.
"We have more than 200 homeless students between the Lowndes County School District and the Columbus Municipal School District," Irby said. "The districts have some money budgeted to place the students in hotels if the parents don't have housing. We don't know who these students are. The schools do not tell us the names. Only the principals of the schools and a guidance counselor know these kids are homeless. When we start our application process, it's for sizes for the clothes. The students remain anonymous."
Irby said the Happy Irby Foundation will buy outfits -- a dress or skirt and blouse for girls, and pants and shirts for boys -- for approximately 350 children this year. Every child will also receive socks and underwear.
So far, they have raised around $11,000, but they will spend closer to $16,000. Donations were slightly "off" this year, Irby said, but he's hoping more will trickle in over the next few weeks.
The group, aided by Columbus Air Force Base airmen, will also deliver 120 fruit baskets to the elderly and homebound.
"The young airmen, most are not from Mississippi," Irby said. "They haven't experienced going to some of these homes and feeling the thankfulness people have when they show up with these fruit baskets."
The elderly are also being remembered by other area organizations. A "Blessing of Blankets" is being held through Dec.17. New blankets and throws can be dropped off at The Fitness Factor, where they will be distributed to the elderly through the United Way.
"This is our first year to host a blanket drive," Fitness Factor's Beth Jeffers said. "I noticed something like this was happening in other communities but we didn't have anything like this specifically in Columbus. I called the United Way and was told this would be a good thing to do because there are a lot of elderly people in the area. They may be keeping their heat down low in order to keep the energy costs down, so this will help them stay warm."
Jeffers said The Fitness Factor is also accepting donations for its Wishing Tree.
"The children on this tree are through Father's Child Ministries, which is something I'm very familiar with," Jeffers said. "If someone would like to provide a gift for one or more of these children, we still have some names available."
The Columbus Police Department is also holding its annual toy drive, providing toys for 346 children.
Last year, more than 200 children received bicycles and toys, and the department will take donations of these items again this year. But they are also asking for new or lightly-used children's clothing. Donations can be dropped off at the department through Dec. 20.
Though the department uses seed money from its annual charity ball, they are soliciting additional funds to fulfill requests not met by donations.
"We're just asking people to be generous," public information officer Glenda Buckhalter said. "We're in great need of help this year."
Point of Grace Church will hold its fifth annual bicycle giveaway Dec. 23. Pastor Shane Cruse said they have only received 75 applications, but they are hoping to order 200 new bicycles from the Huffy Corporation for needy children. They plan to spend between $6,000 and $8,000.
Cruse said when the bicycles are delivered, "it's like a sea of bicycles," and church members and volunteers stay busy for several hours assembling them.
"I felt like it was the one thing we could do for our community during Christmas to help families that are less fortunate and maybe going through a hard time," Cruse said. "A bicycle is about the best thing you can get for a child, because at some point, they all want one. We're able to do a lot more bicycles than Xboxes."
They will also remember those in prison, as well as elderly residents at Vineyard Court Nursing Center. Both groups will receive devotionals and puzzle books, and the church is looking for donations of basic hygiene items for care kits.
Tis the season ... for giving
The Salvation Army
Accepting toy and cash donations. Can assist elderly in need of food. Fill The Truck Toy Drive Saturday, Dec. 8 at Walmart
Happy Irby Foundation
Accepting donations for clothing purchases for homeless students.
Blessings of Blankets
Accepting blankets and throws for the elderly at The Fitness Factor through Dec. 17.
Columbus Police Department Toy Drive
Accepting toys through Dec. 20.
Point of Grace Bicycle Giveaway
Still accepting applications for needy children.
If you or your family is in need of assistance during the holidays, please call the United Way of Lowndes County at 662-328-0943. The United Way supports a variety of organizations that provide services for those in need.
1. Coach Marsh will be remembered COLUMBUS & LOWNDES COUNTY