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Ben Hillyer/The Natchez Democrat Caroline McDonough, center, her daughter Camille, right, and Brittyn Wheeler, left, bag up some of the presents for this year’s Children’s Christmas Tree Fund.

Season of Wishes: Christmas Tree Fund collects gifts for needy

Published 12:03am Tuesday, November 27, 2012

NATCHEZ — Christmas comes every year. But the Natchez Children’s Christmas Tree Fund wants to make sure that it’s more than just a day on the calendar for less fortunate local children.

Originally called the Poor Children’s Christmas Fund, the organization was founded in 1900 by the former publisher of The Natchez Democrat, James W. Lambert. One hundred twelve years later, Lambert’s great-great-granddaughter, Caroline Ferguson McDonough, continues the family legacy, work she started as a child bagging candy and toys. Now, she’s the one who buys the toys for distribution.

“The end goal is to make sure the children of Natchez who are less fortunate have toys for Christmas,” McDonough said.

“There are a lot of people who go in to pull this off. We do it as a family — my cousins come in and help bag the toys and bag the candy.”

When building the gift bags, McDonough said she and whoever is helping her make the purchases in bulk, “toy by toy,” depending on the age group for which they are purchasing.

Because of that, local retailers know the fund’s representatives. Of course, it’s not every day someone comes in and purchases 50 dolls or 50 toy trucks.

“Family Dollar is fairly helpful every year in helping us get the toys,” McDonough said. “They absolutely recognize me. They know me at Walmart as well.”

In order to purchase the toys and candy — each bag costs between $25 and $30 — the fund accepts donations from the public.

The Santa Claus Committee, a group of local businessmen who raise funds for charitable causes, also supports the Christmas fund.

“If we need funds, they make up for what funds we are low on,” McDonough said.

The names of the recipients for the gifts the fund distributes are gathered by Catholic Charities, and McDonough said a few come from Holy Family School.

On Christmas Eve, a Santa Claus selected by the Santa Committee distributes the bags at the Braden School auditorium.

And after a month that includes Christmas shopping not only for her own family, but for 300 other children as well, the results are worth the effort for McDonough.

“It has been very rewarding to make sure that all these children who might not have a Christmas have one,” McDonough said.

Donations may be sent to Christmas Tree Fund, P.O. Box 1082, Natchez MS 39121 or to The Natchez Democrat, P.O. Box 1447, Natchez MS 39121.

Donations may also be dropped off at The Democrat’s office at 503 N. Canal St.