Fran Brock, left, and Barbara Culberson organize donated toys during the Starkville Poverty Coalition's Christmas Co-op. Brock, with MSU's Extension Service, taught a workshop for the co-op about healthy living, and Culberson, with Emerson Family School, taught a workshop about parenting. Photo by: Alex Holloway/Dispatch Staff
December 14, 2018 11:22:15 AM
Lanisha Shields lost her job in early October.
Shields had worked at the Toyota plant in Blue Springs. She has three children, and as the holiday season approached, she worried about how she'd get them gifts for Christmas, with rent and utility bills still to pay.
"I really didn't know how I was going to get my kids some toys," Shields said. "I was just worried. My son just had a birthday last week and he really didn't get anything for his birthday."
Shields was one of several dozen participants at a Christmas Co-op the Starkville Poverty Coalition hosted at Trinity Presbyterian Church on Thursday. The first-time event was in its first of two days, with a morning session on Thursday and another to follow this evening.
It offered participants workshops to help with their daily lives and also a chance to pick out Christmas gifts for their children.
Kathryn Entrekin, a facilitator with the Starkville Poverty Coalition, said the Christmas Co-op is meant to offer a second wave of support near Christmas, after programs like Angel Tree and Adopt-a-Family have reached who they can.
"In the past, Helping Hands' Adopt-a-Family, and currently Angel Tree, always require interviews in October and there are some requirements that go along with that," she said. "Those things are wonderful, but we wanted to be a second wave closer to Christmas when people are thinking about Christmas a little more."
'No questions asked'
Entrekin said 68 adults, representing 145 children 12 years and younger, signed up for the co-op. The program is a roughly two-hour process, with participants picking from three offered classes. On Thursday, the available classes focused on healthy lifestyles, parenting and building resources.
"We want our workshops to be a bridge between us and long-term resources and adult education that's offered year-round by great people," Entrekin said.
After that, the participants went to Trinity Presbyterian's fellowship hall, where they could have refreshments while picking from hundreds of community-donated toys for their children.
Shields, who found out about the co-op from her mother, said she was very thankful for the generosity on display through the donated toys.
"It's very good," she said. "It's been a real blessing for me and my family."
Stephanie Cannon, another participant, said she found out about the co-op through church. Cannon is unemployed and said she took the parenting class Thursday.
As she browsed the toy collection for gifts for her twin sons, she said she found the co-op tremendously helpful.
"It was a great idea," she said. "Especially for a parent that needs the help."
Entrekin said the co-op sought to make the sign-up process as simple as possible.
"People who need assistance and are used to going and asking for it fill out paperwork all the time and they always have to prove things," she said. "It's a lot of red tape. It's a lot of going through the system, and it can be dehumanizing, discouraging and very frustrating. So we wanted this to be a simpler, encouraging, no-questions-asked type process to address some of the psychological symptoms of chronic poverty and to be encouraging."
'It takes a community'
Fran Brock, with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, and Barbara Culberson, with Emerson Family School, taught the healthy lifestyles and parenting workshops, respectively.
Brock said knowledge for healthy habits are important, especially around the Thanksgiving and Christmas, when people can gain five to 10 pounds.
Culberson said she taught her class participants that parenting is "the job of a lifetime," and that programs such as the co-op are important assets to help raise children.
"It takes a community," she said. " It's not your child or my child, or 'I don't have any kids' or 'all my kids are grown and gone' -- it's a community effort to help produce successful kids into adulthood. I think this is just another one of the opportunities in our area that affords an opportunity for the community to come together and help each other."
Entrekin said Starkville's generosity for the co-op was "humbling."
"It's also encouraging thinking about future tasks," she said. "With this being a little more developmental and not being a strict charity model, you never know how people are going to react to that. It was encouraging with this style, to introduce it to the community and for them to be so excited about it."
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