Christmas goodies headed to 1,500 kids

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 19, 2008

Minutes before Salvation Army volunteers began distributing gifts through their Angel Tree program Thursday morning, Capt. Patrick Lyons gathered his volunteers in a circle and asked them to take out their keys and shake them. To the jingle-jangle sound of a dozen sets of keys, Lyons launched the group into a spirited rendering of “Jingle Bells.”

“We have two goals here today,” he told the group, which was distributing gifts from donated space at Pemberton Square mall. “One, we want to make sure all of the children we serve have a merry Christmas, and two, we want everyone who helps out to have a good time doing it.”

Meanwhile across town, volunteers of Good Shepherd Community Center on Cherry Street and the Rev. Tommy Miller were also beginning to dispense toys, clothing and bikes through the agency’s Christmas gift program.

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On Saturday from noon to 2 p.m., Beyond Walls Ministries will hand out gifts at the Warren County Jail through the Prison Fellowship Angel Tree program for indigent families and children with incarcerated parents.

“After a lot of calls and a lot of letter-writing we have gotten confirmation that Santa will be taking some time out of his busy schedule to be in our lobby on Saturday to meet with any children who might come along with their parents to pick up gifts,” said Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace.

Combined, all three charitable programs will provide Christmas toys and clothing to roughly 1,500 children in Warren County who might not otherwise receive any gifts. Despite a year filled with grim economic news, all of the programs coordinators said donations were as generous as ever.

“This is my 11th year doing this, and I’ve actually gotten more donations this year than I ever have in the past,” said Miller, noting Good Shepherd took in 288 applications for its gift program and received enough donations to provide about 350 children with gifts. “The Vicksburg community is really the most generous group of people I have ever known.”

Prescilla Slater was one of many parents who lined up inside Good Shepherd Community Center Thursday morning to pick up gifts. As the single mother of six children, ages 4 to 13, loaded the back seat and trunk of her car with wrapped gifts, she said the help will ensure a happy holiday for her children. 

“I am doing what I can for the children, but it’s been a hard year. This makes sure they’ll all get at least three or four nice gifts,” said Slater. “What they’re doing here is a true blessing, and I am very grateful for their help.”

While donors eventually came through for the Salvation Army, two weeks ago there was serious concern some children might not get a gift, as 250 of roughly 900 children on the Angel Tree at Pemberton Square had yet to be adopted. However, when word got out that there were children facing a holiday without a visit from Santa, Lyons said he was overwhelmed with response from the community.

“Just when it was getting down to the wire and we were getting a little nervous, the people of Vicksburg really stepped up,” said Lyons. “These are people who are sacrificing in difficult times so other children can have a good Christmas, and there’s just no way for me to describe how thankful we are for that.”

The Salvation Army’s Senior Angels program also recently delivered gifts to 130 nursing home residents in Vicksburg who do not have family members in the area. Along with providing gifts and bicycles through the Angel Tree program, the Salvation Army also aims to provide a stocking filled with smaller gifts to each child. However, the past two years there were only enough donations for about half of the 800 to 900 children on the Angel Tree to get a stocking. So this year, outgoing Salvation Army Auxiliary President Pearl Carter and stocking committee president Rosa Bell began working in January to make sure every child got a stocking. Along with the help of other volunteers, they got enough stockings for every child this year and will have some left over for next Christmas.

“I was just thrilled that we were able to do it, because it broke my heart the past few years to have to tell some people there wasn’t enough stockings for their children,” said Carter. “There’s many people who put a lot of hours into making this day happen, but the more I do the more I want to do. I love it. The appreciation you see and hear from the people is so wonderful, but really, I think it does a whole lot more for me than it does for them.”

On Saturday, when families show up at the Warren County Jail to pick up the goods brought by the jail’s angel tree ministry, a tradition begun in 1992 will be carried on. That ministry, started by Debra and Jimmy Hartley, is greatly funded by the 11-year-old Jammin’ with the Kids’ party that raised more than $6,000 last week.


Contact Steve Sanoski at