Vidalia Apparel ‘Santas’ provide early Christmas for former co-worker’s children

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 22, 2000

FERRIDAY, La. – Martha Jefferson looked down at her kitchen table as she talked about her sister’s death, barely two months ago, from leukemia. Her sister, Mary Leonard, and Leonard’s children – Jerry, now 11; Myecha, 9; and Jasmyne, 8 – lived with Jefferson and her three children since Leonard was diagnosed two years ago. Now the children continue to live with Jefferson in Ferriday.

&uot;Adjusting to her being gone,&uot; she said softly, &uot;will be the hardest thing. Especially during the holidays.&uot;

But the story doesn’t end there.

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Leonard worked at Vidalia Apparel, where co-workers formed close friendships with her and her family. &uot;We loved Mary,&uot; said Cathy James, an employee of the plant. &uot;She was one of our own.&uot;

So when the company decided to &uot;adopt&uot; a family for Christmas, James knew which family it should be.

And on Friday afternoon, she and six of her co-workers carried armfuls of packages into the family’s Ferriday home, bringing an early Christmas to Leonard’s children. The children were encouraged to tear into the bright wrapping paper – and they did, revealing scooters, board games, dolls, shoes and clothes.

Myecha held up a green outfit and Nike shoes. &uot;Chicken Run!&uot; Jerry said, holding up a videotape. And the tape went with the new television set and VCR that were sitting, along with a compact disc player, near the Christmas tree.

Jerry, speaking for his more shy siblings, gave a hearty &uot;thank you&uot; to the entire group – before all three of them, along with Jefferson’s children, went outside to play.

By then, there still wasn’t a dry eye in the living room as Jefferson, her older sister, Carolyn Blair, and the &uot;Santa Clauses&uot; from Vidalia Apparel exchanged hugs. &uot;We wanted to bring a little extra Christmas cheer and happiness to them, especially at this time,&uot; said Altha Granger, wiping back tears.

&uot;We can’t replace their mother, but we can do that,&uot; Sharon Woods added.

Jim Sanders, public relations manager for Vidalia Apparel, said that working on the project has brought employees closer together. The plant’s workers pitched in about $800 to buy the gifts.

&uot;It’s a complete blessing when people get together to do something like this,&uot; Jefferson said. &uot;God had something to do with this. Santa couldn’t do it alone.&uot;