Miss-Lou residents help common cause

Published 12:59 am Sunday, February 28, 2010

Miss-Lou residents jump at the chance to lend a hand. Someone is having a fundraiser somewhere in our community every day of the year.

But it’s not just baked goods and T-shirts for sell here. No, the Miss-Lou is more creative than that.

No matter what the cause or the creation, locals volunteer to work and spend for one reason — each other.

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Volunteer work, fundraisers and projects bring our community together like nothing else can. Here’s what a few local groups did to make a difference:

Children and workers at the Natchez Children’s Home Services have adopted a love of the land thanks to Buddy Miller.

Miller, owner of Plantation Pecan and Gift Company in Waterproof, has long donated his farm-raised pecans to the children’s home, which sells roasted pecans, pralines and other treats as part of its holiday fundraiser.

A decade partnership with children’s home prompted Miller to do more for the Natchez non-profit, so last spring, Miller decided to bring the farm to them.

With the help of students from Boston University and youth from the children’s home’s preschool day treatment program, Miller planted a six-row garden chock full of cantaloupes, cucumbers, yellow squash, zucchini, eggplant and tomatoes located near the children’s home playground. This spring, Miller will add figs, persimmons and pears to the collection.

“More and more people think the food comes off a shelf in the grocery store,” Miller said. “This project gave us an opportunity to teach (children) about where food comes from and the value of nutrition. If a child raises a cucumber, they will more than likely eat a cucumber.”

Miller cited Mississippi’s high rates of obesity, heart disease and diabetes, which he says “could be cured with people eating what they raise, and passing by a few French fries and hamburgers every now and then.”

Children’s Home Director Nancy Hungerford said Miller’s pecan contributions have garnered thousands of dollars, but his gardening expertise is priceless

“He wanted people to see things don’t grow at Walmart, they grow out of ground,” Hungerford said. “He is a good man by heart and spirit.”

Sticky solution

College just doesn’t prepare people for the day when they will be duct taped to the wall of their workplace.

In February 2009, Cathedral teacher Cheryl Hunt came face-to-face, or back-to-wall, with that nightmare.

The 10th- and 12th-grade English teacher said having her feet dangling off the floor was uncomfortable, but Relay for Life was such a good cause that inspiring her students to support the community was worth the punishment.

“It was a little embarrassing,” Hunt said. “But students like to see that we are willing to let our hair down and not always be so serious.”

Jean Benoit, Key Club advisor, organized the event. A dollar bought a foot of tape to stick five Cathedral volunteers to the cafeteria wall during an extended lunch break.

“We raised $503 off of a little roll of duct tape,” she said. “The longer the students were willing to dig into their pockets, the longer lunch lasted.”

Senior Darrell Chatman, 17, said one of his former teachers died of cancer, so Relay for Life hits close to Cathedral’s heart and they always support it.

Counting classroom donations the school raised $783 for the Miss-Lou Relay for Life.

Cleaning day

Something as simple as picking up the trash can unite people.

That’s what the Ferriday Garden Club learned last year when they decided to enter the town in the Louisiana Garden Club Federation’s Cleanest City Contest.

“The main thing was to clean up Ferriday and kind of let people be involved and have pride in their community like it was a long time ago, when everybody was proud of their town and took care of it,” garden club member Lena Bateman said.

“It wasn’t about winning it was about working together to get a common goal done, to clean up Ferriday and bring pride back into the community.”

To do that, garden club members sent letters to the entire town, put up fliers, and sent a second mailing to people along the judging route. They also handed out buttons that said, “Let’s clean up Ferriday,” and had a town-wide cleanup day.

“The first time we had the cleanup day, the weather was cold and it was raining, but we had people show up for it,” Bateman said. “We rescheduled for the next week, and we had a good turnout for that.”

The town ultimately won third place in its division in the contest, but garden club member Dianne Watson said the important thing was that, while the effort made last year was only a small step in the right direction, it brought attention to a problem to which people had just gotten used.

One neglected lot in the south side of town was cleaned just on the initiative of the lot’s neighbors, Watson said.

“It has been cleaned up, and we didn’t have anything to do with it,” she said. “I believe our efforts planted a seed.”

And the cause isn’t over — they’ll enter the contest again this year, Bateman said.

And the goal to bond over this year is summed up in the message printed on their buttons: “Let’s keep Ferriday clean.”

Linking together

It doesn’t take long for dimes to add up — just ask the Frazier Primary School staff.

Frazier raised nearly $600 for the United Way of the Greater Miss-Lou selling construction paper rings for 10 cents each for one week in December.

The school’s speech pathologist and United Way chairperson Lisa Johnson said she was looking for a creative way to get the children involved with fundraising.

“The project was something they saw grow and each day they saw how their money made a difference,” Johnson said. “Watching it grow and evolve got them excited. It was just a fun project that they could understand.”

Before the projected started, Johnson expected to raise $200 or $300, but it did take long for her to realize her estimation was too low.

“The parents of our students were sending in $20 or $30 each for their children and the students were bringing in all the change they could find,” she said. “The entire school really got behind it, and it was fun to see the paper chains grow in the classrooms.”

Some of the classroom chains grew so long they had to be displayed in the cafeteria and office.