A gift for every little angel

Published 12:34 am Thursday, December 1, 2011

ERIC SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT Melissa Brown, a member of the Junior Auxiliary, prepares angel ornaments for the tree. The ornaments will be placed on the Angel Tree today at Concordia Bank.

NATCHEZ — Making sure Natchez children have a gift to unwrap at Christmas hits close to the classroom for Melissa Brown.

Four years ago, Brown started teaching kindergarten at West Primary School, an experience that exposed her to some of the city’s poorest children, she said.

Brown said she was not prepared for the number of children she met who went without meals or a winter jacket — much less a gift under the tree.

“I was shocked there were so many kids in Natchez that had nothing,” she said.

So she jumped at the opportunity to join Junior Auxiliary, which centers its philanthropy on area children.

And Brown’s own cheerful memories of Christmas gave the Angel Tree charity a special significance.

“As a kid I remember I was so excited to see what Santa left in my stocking and the presents under the tree,” Brown said.

The charity, of which Brown is a committee member, asks residents to handpick an ornament bearing a child’s name and age from the Angel Tree.

“Angels” then shop for the child and return the gifts to the Angel Tree by Dec. 16, when Catholic Charities and the Department of Human Services distribute them.

Brown said hearing stories from some of her students helped her realize what a difference a gift at Christmas time could make.

Just about every year she has taught at West, Brown said, she has noticed at least one child in her class she suspects might eat their only meals of the day at school.

“Every day, I put a bag of chips or crackers in their back pack,” she said of those children.

While pasting names on construction paper ornaments this week in preparation for today’s kickoff of the charity, Brown recognized names of children from her class or those has taught in past years.

“I always pick the 5 and 6 year olds,” she said. “I know what they like.”

Some of the popular items requested this by Angel Tree recipients this year include makeup, jewelry, fake fingernails, dolls and playhouses for girls and footballs, Legos and trucks for boys.

Brown said shopping for a specific child adds extra joy to holiday giving.

“It makes it more personal,” she said.

“It’s all about the kids.”

This year, 211 children’s names will hang from the Angel Tree, which is up from last year’s 180.

Ornaments can be picked up from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. starting today at Concordia Bank on 45 Seargent S. Prentiss Drive.

Gifts must be placed under the tree along with the corresponding ornament at Concordia Bank by Dec. 16.

Brown said JA will also accept monetary donations to supplement the gifts to make sure each child has a gift.

Checks can be mailed to Junior Auxiliary of Natchez at P.O. Box 1592, Natchez, MS, 39120.