Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

Local News

December 21, 2013

Giving a helping hand

Area entities come together to provide holiday items

CHEROKEE COUNTY — Need may be great, but residents' generosity is even greater, for which organizers of holiday-relief programs are grateful.

Siu Chapa, who with her husband Tony, opened The Chaparral Center in Alto within the past year, said an inaugural Angel Tree program was a success because donors pitched in and provided enough gifts to ensure that none of the 58 children – ages three months to 14 years – were overlooked.

“I'm really not surprised by (residents) generosity,” she said, admitting there were a few times she was uncertain if organizers would meet their goal.

However, her assistants Velma Skinner and Joyce Verdell tapped into their network of business contacts, who were happy to help, she said.

“There were a lot of them who said 'okay' when we asked for their help,” Chapa said. “We've  been very blessed.”

According to the website countyhealthrankings.org., of the 232 Texas counties observed in 2013, approximately 32 percent of all children in Cherokee County live in poverty.

To meet the needs of residents, programs like H.O.P.E. – which serves as a clearing house for churches and charitable agencies in Cherokee County – along with groups like The Clothes Closet and St. Vincent de Paul, work year-round to provide food and clothing.

Then there are the holiday-specific programs – Rusk FFA's new partnership with Kids Against Hunger, a Christmas party for Rusk State Hospital residents that Our Lady of Sorrows Parish helps sponsor, a nursing home initiative spear-headed by the Worship Under the Bridge Community – whose goal is to make the Christmas season shine brighter for those in need.

Be it holiday spirit or the tugging of heartstrings, the community rolls out in full force when making sure children aren't left without gifts at Christmas.

It's been years since Kenya Applin's childhood, but the love and generosity of donors contributing to the newly founded Children's Christmas Tree program made an impact on the little girl with three older brothers who were raised in a struggling, single-parent family during the early 1980s.

“I have worked on this project in one form or another since 1989 and thoroughly enjoy it,” said Applin, who serves as president for the organization that's become a family affair over the years: Her grandmother Dorothy Gordon was one of the early volunteers, and now, members of her family – also beneficiaries of the program's efforts – are volunteering themselves.

“I never had a big Christmas when I was a kid,” she recalled. “I do it because somebody gave to me when I was a kid – I remember when there was nothing under the tree, then waking up (to find presents).”

More precious than the gifts themselves, however, was the knowledge that there was “somebody who thought of me,” she added.

“Now we have people who help because they were helped (by the program) at one time. And that's what I like about Jacksonville, they've got such great community (spirit). Because if it weren't for the community, we couldn't do this.”

This year, Jacksonville's Marine Corps League Detachment #1381, which oversees the county's Toys for Tots holiday toy drive, contributed to the cause, enabling the program to serve 88 families.

Working with Jacksonville ISD, recipients are identified throughout the year, and registered during the fall, presenting the team of volunteers with holiday wishlists.

“Mainly, we help single families, and those struggling on one income – the ones you don't want falling through the cracks. We want to show them that hey, we do care,” Applin said.

In fact, she added, “parents have told me they use this program to teach their children the joy of giving by letting them choose a name and pick gifts that they wanted for that child, and people whose children are grown are doing it just for the joy of it. Others (participate) because they love Christmas and the spirit of (the holiday).”

Applied Learning Community Students at Jacksonville's East Side Elementary are using critical thinking skills to study local needs and finding solutions in existing programs through something called the “Kind Kids” project.

According to ALC Coordinator Angie Stinson, the project is designed “to show them how they can help others in need” by focusing on the giving season of Christmas and discovering that “giving is more rewarding than receiving.”

A variety of projects focused on sending snacks and coffee mugs to troops stationed in Korea, donating “gently used” clothing to the local crisis center, and creating ornaments for local senior care facilities, for whom they also sang carols.

The ALC program “focuses on real world problems, and teaches students how to think critically to help solve those problems – our goal for this project is to show students that they are never to young to help others around them,” Stinson said, adding the program has received positive feedback from both students and faculty. “And the parents are thrilled that their children are learning life-long lessons and skills.”

And that is the deeper meaning of Christmas in a nutshell, said Father Mark Kusmirek of Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Jacksonville.

“People realize that while each individual's needs may be considered, there are people around us who have needs but may not have means to meet those needs,” the priest said. “And people provide by helping them with the basic necessities to live life.”

In turn, this “also helps people to know that they are cared for by someone, that they have groups in the area who care about them,” he said. “And this can be very soul-warming.”

Applin agreed.

“That's why I love Jacksonville. They've got the best people who care about (others). And when it comes down to it, they're not going to leave the kids behind. They are going to help; they are here for the kids.”

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