Caring hearts often come in costume

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Not many folks alive today know much about James Lambert’s personality.

Lambert, who founded The Natchez Democrat in 1865, was long gone before most of us were thought of.

We do know he was a businessman of the late 1800s and very early 1900s. And, if he followed the stereotype of the typical newspaper publisher of long ago, Lambert likely wasn’t the type man you’d see carrying stuffed animals and hugging children.

Email newsletter signup

But he did leave us one very real piece of insight into his personality. Whether he was hugging children on the street or not, he cared about them.

Sometime in the early 1900s, Lambert and a few of his businessmen buddies dreamed up the idea of the Children’s Christmas Tree Fund.

The men — who had enough money to provide for their families — wanted to help those who didn’t.

So they started the fund that still lives on today.

The men collected money from others, and likely contributed a chunk of their own earnings, to purchase toys and goodies for children in need.

Last year, 10-year-old Brian was hoping for one thing in his bag of Christmas goodies he received from Santa Claus at Braden School — a baseball bat.

And though Brian didn’t stand still long enough for us to know what he actually discovered in his bag, I’m sure he was happy with what he had.

Cynecia, also 10, couldn’t enjoy her first gift due to excitement over the next gift.

Eyes light up at Braden School every Christmas Eve, all because James Lambert had an idea.

Unfortunately, Lambert didn’t live many years after he started the Children’s Christmas Tree Fund. After his death family members and Democrat employees kept the fund alive.

And in the 1970s, Katherine Killelea became the projects matriarch. She built it into what it is today, giving bags of goodies to 500 children at one time.

In 2006, the Lamberts took over again. Killelea decided to step down, and Caroline Ferguson McDonough and Beth Mallory Foster — Lambert’s great-great-granddaughters — stepped up.

Last year, the fund received one of its biggest donations to date when Corrections Corporation of America donated several thousand dollars.

The check allowed the organizers to pay off credit cards and start buying this year with a little money in the bank.

But one-time gifts always stop giving, and if the project James Lambert started is to continue, we’ll have to do it his way.

The Christmas Tree Fund is made up of small donations from the community. Ten dollars here and $25 there adds up to the amount needed to purchase $30 gift bags for 300 children.

Each year, at about this time, checks and cash donations begin coming in one-by-one for the children.

Our office here at the newspaper — 503 N. Canal St. — still serves as a collection point, but money can also be mailed to: Christmas Tree Fund, P.O. Box 1082, Natchez, MS, 39121.

We will publish several lists of donations in the coming days and weeks, and you can donate in honor or memory of a loved one.

Let’s raise enough this year to leave the project’s organizers with money left over to start things off again next year.

If Brian didn’t get his bat last year, he may be coming back to Braden this year, fingers crossed and hopes dancing in his eyes.

Let’s show him we care.

Julie Cooper is the managing editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or