Jill Conner Browne: Victory on Toys for Katrina Kids! | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Jill Conner Browne: Victory on Toys for Katrina Kids!

Our good friend Jill Conner Browne just sent this update out to her list about how efforts of many of you and others are making a big difference in the lives of kids on the Coast this Christmas. She sent out a plea for toys that we posted a couple weeks ago. Bless everyone in Jackson and beyond who helped out.

[verbatim] Dearest Y'all, I'm including a letter from Bruce Reynolds -- Katrina Man for Wells Church.  Please note that -- between y'all and the Queens & Spud Studs at Chefs for Humanity -- Wells received over $10,000 for the Katrina Coast Kids Christmas!!!!!  AND, that does NOT include the mountains of actual toys that were sent to the church -- AND, it also does NOT include the toys and the over $3,000 that was sent directly to the Boys and Girls Clubs of The Gulf Coast!!!!!

I think the photo of the little girl at the bottom, positively RADIATING joy, holding her present -- her little face may be the best present we all get this year. And that joyful expression is being repeated over and over on the face of EVERY CHILD down there -- thanks to y'all. Thank you for caring -- enough to go out of your way -- for children you will probably never meet -- to send money and toys, to tell others about the need and to pray for the success of this gargantuan effort.  God love you, darlin's! BIG kiss RIGHT on the lips--jillconnerbrowneTHEsweetpotatoqueen

______
Bruce Reynolds letter:

Madonna and Child

A group of eight left Jackson for the Coast on Thursday, with a load of toys in tow in the U-Haul-this the second load of toys previously delivered. They dropped them off at the Boys & Girls Club of The Gulf Coast then headed to Pearlington. That night the toys were sorted and then distributed up and down the Coast the next day to the "Katrina Kids." As the toys were being handed out, the WellsGroup of four women and four men were working their magic in Pearlington. Sheet rocking, painting, carpentry work, putting in windows, whatever asked of them, they were doing to assist this small, ravaged community recover from the storm.
We've come to know and love the people of Pearlington. I had never been there until after Katrina. How beautiful it must have been before the storm. The once stately oaks which lined the main road in town are now struggling mightily to survive. So too, are the people of Pearlington. The folks in Pearlington are not your typical Coast folks. They are a synthesis of Mississippi and Louisiana blood lines. Few, very few are wealthy while most were, at best, struggling to exist before the storm hit. Now, after the storm, the struggle is so much greater for them.
 
But this Saturday was to be a special day in Pearlington. A parade was to be staged, food to be cooked and consumed and presents to be distributed to the kids of not just Pearlington, but also all of Hancock County. Chuck and I left Jackson in the fog at the usual time of 6:30 and pulled into Pearlington around 9:30, the fog hung heavily over us. But this did not deter the atmosphere that was beginning to build even on this damp foggy morning. We unloaded the seventeen bikes as well as the $1,500+ worth of all manner of electronic devices. These were purchased the previous night by this giddy Santa and Marti the elf-all from a portion of the money donated to the cause from California, Oklahoma, New York, Georgia, Kansas, Arkansas, Illinois, South Carolina, Nevada, Colorado, Alabama and Mississippi. Amazing. We lined the bikes up and placed the electronics in front of the huge room full of toys waiting to be picked up by some deserving Pearlington child. How fun it was as Chuck and I played Santa for a day. But we had work to do so we left the "Pearl Mart" as they call it to meet with the WellsCrew at the work site. We were told to come back and have a burger and a hot dog with them when Santa arrived later that afternoon.  Chuck mentioned as we were pulling out of the Pearl Mart that the fog had cleared and the day was now clear and beautiful. 
Our work assignment this day was to begin erecting a roof over the newly laid porch on a modest house that was being rebuilt after Katrina had completely destroyed it. We were told to be particularly careful in our construction as this was the home of a ten year old child suffering from spinabifida. They told us that each crew before us had given particular attention to detail in order for this special child to have a special place.

We worked throughout the morning and through lunch. About 1:30 we could hear the sirens from the fire trucks and rescue vehicles begin to wail. But we were not alarmed, because this was Pearlington's special day and the sirens, this day, were not warning against impending danger, rather they were leading the way for the parade and for Santa. We could hear them as they left the Pearl Mart and wound their way through the back streets of the little hamlet.

After about an hour of listening the sirens fade then become louder and louder, I offered to run back to get us all some burgers and hot dogs before the parade made its way back to the Pearl Mart. So Dave and I snuck in just ahead of the parade and made our way into the compound. You see, the Pearl Mart is really the old Pearlington high school. For those of you who donated clothing and food last year, this is where it ended up, in the old gymnasium of the school. Now, instead of the coach's office, the FEMA office takes its place. The gym floor is now converted into a store of clothes, food and materials.   Each day residents of the area converge on the Pearl Mart and are given life's necessities such as canned food and clothing-and we are now one year, four months post Katrina-are you starting to get the picture of their continuing plight? The old school which sits just north of the gym has been converted into living quarters with cots. Except on this day, it is Santa's quarters. This is where Chuck and I delivered your presents for Santa to give out very shortly exclusively to the kids of Pearlington.

Finally, outside of the chain link fence which surrounds the gym and the old school is the old football field. This is where the Army set up the mess tent to feed the homeless (100% of Pearlington) after Katrina hit. The only problem was that this was the last community to get attention, to receive the mess tent and assistance. As bad as everything was in Waveland and Bay St. Louis-and trust me it was real bad there-Pearlington's plight was even more dramatic, and less resources expended on it. When all the other Red Cross mess tents were no longer needed and moved, still the Red Cross kept their tent open here because of the slow response and overwhelming need. It was the last kitchen to be pulled from the Coast and that was nearly a year after the storm had hit.

The football field is now the location of some temporary 'wooden tent-like' structures for disaster relief teams as well as a trailer/shower facility donated by the Methodist Church. But on this day, little attention was being given to the storm related facilities, as this was the staging area for the rural Hancock County kids to receive their gifts from Santa.

As Dave and I wove our way through the mayhem, the Hancock County kids were assembling in the ball field area while the Pearlington kids were amassing outside of the old school. We grabbed our hamburgers and hotdogs from the volunteers who had graciously donated and cooked them, and were about to take them back to the WellsCrew. But I apologized to Dave, grabbed my camera and took off my tool belt and put on my Santa hat. There was no way this Clark Griswold was going to miss Santa arrive atop the Hancock County Fire and Rescue Unit with sirens a-blaring! It got even better. Next to Santa sat not an elf, but an Elvis. I've taken pictures to verify the sighting. The sirens were screaming as were the children. Santa and Elvis made it through the throng and into the safe confines of the school. After a moment, they allowed Santa to ascend and sit on his rightful throne to await the on coming rush. Of course, on his right, stood Elvis, and I, of course, was the first one to get my picture taken with the both of them. But outside, lined up and itching to bust down the doors were the Pearlington kids.

I was expecting chaos, but instead, was surprised at the orderly manner in which the gift giving went down. Five, by five they called them in. They asked their names and an envelope with their names was retrieved. Inside the envelope were instructions as to what present each was to receive and where to find it. Then, an adult was assigned to each child to help them "shop" for their present. After this was complete, they were escorted to Santa's throne where each received a big hug, a bunch of ho, ho, hos and undoubtedly a bit of Christmas magic.
I took a few pictures and knew I was running late and Dave's and the WellsCrew's patience was getting thin. But I had done what I had come to do, to see the kids getting what each of you wanted, and made sure that they would have.

It was then, as I was about to leave that it happened. Laurie, the angel from New York who runs the Pearl Mart as an unpaid volunteer attached to no agency, tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I would like to help one of the kids "go shopping." How could Clark Griswold say no?  She introduced me to a beautiful little girl. I say little, she was actually sixteen and in high school. She shyly stood in front of me-holding her two and a half month old infant. All I can think of now is Madonna and Child. All I could think of then was thank you God for letting me be a part of this. I immediately loaded this child up. There is no way I could work for Santa, he'd be broke my first day on the job. After loading her down, she asked if she could get something for her baby. I found out where the infant section was and we got her things for the child. I walked her and her baby outside, gave her a hug and told her that there were people across this country who were pulling for her and her baby. She shyly listened, smiled and said thank you. I stood there looking at her and felt so very blessed for God to have put me in this place, in this situation, in this very moment. I humbly stood and watched as modonna and child slowly walked away from this cool dark place of refuge back into the stark bright, unforgiving light of the reality that is Pearlington.

POST SCRIPT: I can not thank you enough for the wonderful outpouring of prayer, gifts and money.  A couple of weeks ago there were going to be Katrina Kids up and down the Mississippi Coast who were not going to receive gifts.  But for you and your generosity this would have happened.   But an email, led to an email that led to an email that led you and others to "do all the good you can do."  You did it.  And as a result, I've been assured that every kid on the Coast will have at least one present this Christmas.  Further, thanks to  your contributions, we were able to ratchet up gifts to include bikes and DVD players and the like.  Trust me, these kids deserve it.
I have one last request for each of you.  Please continue to pray for recovery on the Coast and in New Orleans.  Recovery in every sense.  Physical recovery of homes.  Recovery of normalcy.  Recovery of families and lives.  Recovery for the children.  Please pray especially for the little girl and her two and a half month old baby.  I don't know her or her baby's name, but God does.
During this Christmas time, may God bless each one of you as He has me.  And again, thank you. You are special!

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