Sunday Focus: Season of giving important to community

Published 11:46 pm Saturday, November 24, 2018


Editor’s Note: We kick off our annual Season of Wishes, stories about local charities and organization you can help this holiday season.

NATCHEZ — This time of year, most children eagerly anticipate ripping the paper off of the gifts that start to pile up under the Christmas tree.

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The season of giving, however, is also a time when some people unselfishly offer whatever they have to spare to those who may not have as much to give.

Volunteers for local charity organizations said, for them, giving is a gift itself that can be received once a year or even all year round.

From the most basic needs — such as shelter and food — to a small toy that could make a child happy this Christmas, lots of ways exist in our community to give and help out a friend, neighbor or a stranger.

Give a toy, get a smile

For Deloris Wilson, a “Toys for Tots” volunteer, “The gift of giving is a gift that lasts a lifetime,” she said.

“God expects us to help each other,” she said. “It’s very important that we help each other so that we all are blessed in the end.”

Wilson said she has worked with the Adams County Chapter of Toys for Tots for the past three years, ever since the Natchez coordinator, Valerie Quinn, recruited her to help. Wilson said she now helps families through the application process, and she helps approximately 16 volunteers each year to sort, package and distribute gifts for children who might not otherwise have a Christmas present.

“During this holiday season, just like all other holiday seasons, we try to make sure every child has something to put a smile on their face,” Wilson said. “Last year, we actually serviced 675 children in this area. … There is a great need. Every year, we try to make sure that we touch as many families as we can.”

Wilson said Toys for Tots has multiple boxes stationed at various business locations throughout Adams County. Toys for Tots accepts both toy and monetary donations which are used to purchase needed gifts as well as books for local children in low-income families, she said.

“Those donations are very important,” Wilson said. “I encourage everyone who can to give. Not everyone is able to do what the next person can do.”

Wilson said she continues to receive blessings just by giving.

“I have very much enjoyed doing what I do,” she said. “Seeing the smiles on their faces warms your heart, and puts a smile on your face, too, when you see them happy. … We have a dynamic group of volunteers that do everything they can to help out … in all of Adams County.”

For more information about how to register or donate, contact Deloris Wilson at 601-660-5019 or Valerie Quinn at 601-807-0188.

No one goes hungry in a city that gives

Amanda Jeansonne, director of the Natchez Stewpot, said she sees no shortage of compassion in Natchez during the holiday season.

“I think you can tell a lot about a community by how that community takes care of those in need, and Natchez does a great job at that,” she said. “There are about six to seven other pantries in Natchez that provide uncooked and packaged food to people, so there’s no need for anyone to go hungry.”

The Natchez Stewpot, located on East Franklin Street, opens its doors to anyone in need of hot meal seven days a week while more volunteers deliver food to elderly, disabled or injured persons who can’t make it to the facility themselves.

Jeansonne said she began working as a volunteer for the Stewpot soon after she moved to Natchez and became a member of St. Mary Catholic Church in 1984. She later founded the Empty Bowls event in 2004 to raise funds for the Stewpot with help from Natchez Pottery.

The event was a huge success, and raises approximately $10,000 each year, Jeansonne said.

In 2015, she stepped up as director of the ministry when the former director, Louis Gunning, died of cancer.

“He was worried about what would happen when he wasn’t here anymore,” Jeansonne said. “Every couple weeks or so, I would take him the checks (from Empty Bowls) and we would talk about the Stewpot. … I was able to learn from him about everything that needs to be done and said I’d pass on the knowledge to the next person. It was sort of natural for me to assume the role.”

Jeansonne said she handles some deliveries and manages inventory for the StewPot while hundreds of volunteers handle building maintenance, clean up, cooking, deliveries and ministry.

“It is an army of volunteers,” she said. “People want to give back. … We get a huge percentage of monetary and food donations this time of year. We still need food in August and September, but it’s a blessing. … People in this community are very generous — all facets of people around the community.”

The Stewpot opens for meals from 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 11 a.m. to noon on Sunday.

“Anyone can stop in and volunteer,” Jeansonne said. “When a group wants to work, they call and schedule. … There’s always work to be done.”

Monetary donations are accepted at P.O. Box 298, Natchez, and food can be dropped off between 7:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Sunday.

Gifts that keep giving

Duncan McFarlane, representative for Natchez-Adams County Chapter of Habitat for Humanity, said the influx of donations received during the holidays helps the non-profit organization build homes throughout the year.

“We would hope people would give throughout the year, but during the Christmas season people are more apt to give to the less fortunate,” he said. “We really rely on the donations during the Christmas season to help us keep doing what we’re doing year-round.”

McFarlane said Habitat for Humanity helps eligible, low-income families acquire safe housing without mortgage payments or labor costs for building with the help of volunteers.

McFarlane has had his hand in the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity for 27 years since it began, he said.

“I really got involved from day one in the Natchez chapter. … I had just retired and was looking for some community project to get involved in. My dad was a building contractor, so (Habitat for Humanity) just seemed like a natural fit for me.”

More than 20 houses later, McFarlane is still representing Habitat for Humanity in Natchez and is always seeking more hands to help during the building process.

“It’s just so rewarding — from the first day that the family moves into the house and we get to give them the keys,” he said. “We’re providing a brand new home to families who, perhaps, are renting houses that are not in good shape — leaking roofs, improperly insulated, etc. … When you have the windows papered up to keep the wind out or there are holes in the floor or ceiling … those are the families that need a home.”

Carol Moore is the latest homeowner to benefit from Habitat for Humanity and just received her keys last March, McFarlane said.

Moore said she lived with and cared for her disabled sister, her 22-year-old daughter and her father with a prosthetic leg. Her former trailer house was in a state of disrepair that she didn’t have the time or income to fix, she said.

The house had no heating or air conditioning, holes in the ceiling, no hot water and only two electrical outlets in working order.

“We had a dorm-room refrigerator because we were too scared to plug in a larger one,” Moore said. “I had to boil water to bathe in.”

Moore said Habitat for Humanity not only built her a new house, but allowed her to choose her own countertops, floors and paint colors. Jefferson Street United Methodist Church helped add a sturdy ramp for her father and the local Moose Lodge donated a living space for her family while the house was being built — free of charge for all but the utilities for the eight months she lived there, Moore said.

Moore said she was so touched by what others did for her, that her house is not the last Habitat for Humanity house she will see through construction.

“I will work on every house that they build from now on,” Moore said. “It’s all about giving. … My mama once told me that it was better to give than receive, but I didn’t understand until I was older. I gave my last dollar to help out a friend in need. … a few months later, Habitat called me and said I’d be getting a new home. If you give, God will bless you for it.”

McFarlane said donations for Habitat for Humanity can be mailed to P.O. Box 100, Natchez. Volunteers can be scheduled for work on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon, he said.

To apply for housing or to volunteer, contact McFarlane at 601-807-4956.