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See terms and conditions at Unest.co. That's U-N-E-S-T dot C-O. Music This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories. And it's Christmas season, so we're telling Christmas stories. In 1975, the Christmas store was founded and has been giving out presents to those in need ever since. Jonathan Maddox of the Oxford Ole Miss Rotary Club is co-chairman of the Christmas store. He's here to share this beautiful annual event that happens right here in our small, beautiful town of Oxford, Mississippi, about an hour south of Memphis.
Here's Jonathan. The Christmas store is a community-based volunteer organization that gives toys to children in our community who otherwise might not have anything for Christmas. In 2007, when the Rotary Club of Oxford Ole Miss was forming and looking for a signature project, the Christmas store seemed like a good place for us to plug in and volunteer.
I joined the Rotary Club because I wanted to be able to make a difference. And so when this project was brought to the club's attention, everyone really thought this was a great chance for us to really give back to those in our community. Little did we know at the time that we would be taking over the Christmas store, and for the past 14 years we have been the stewards of this annual event. For years before our involvement in the Christmas store, people would shop throughout the year in just a massive big pile of toys, and it truly was a store. And families were invited to come in and select a couple of toys for each of their children. When we became involved in the store, it became apparent that there was always that certain toy that they could never have enough of. It would be the one that they would set out and everyone would want to grab that one first, and anyone who came later maybe didn't have the opportunity to get that thing for that year.
So we said, why not just buy the toys that the people want in the first place? And that led to a whole new way of handling the Christmas store. We put out an application around the beginning of October where we actually provide a wish list and asked families to choose a couple of gifts from that list, and we go out and actually purchase the things that are on their list so they know they really are getting the things that their children want. So when we started to kind of think through how we would go about purchasing specific gifts for specific children, in some years when we have as many as 800 children on the list, it was a pretty daunting task.
So although the Rotary Club is the stewards of the event, it really is the community who makes it happen. We have, in most years, 75 to 100 volunteers who participate throughout the entire planning season shopping, helping families navigate through our event, wrap presents, handout books, and other ways to make that day special. It's quite a huge undertaking and a huge volume of toys to manage.
Preparations begin in September, and so it is amazing how many people are a part of making this happen. I see parents who bring their children out shopping and navigating through the aisle and trying to find a certain thing, and children really getting involved and trying to pick out what they think would be the best choice between the dolls or the puzzles or whatever, and really actively engaging and wanting to make sure that somebody else gets a great gift is fun to be able to experience. I have a 13-year-old son, and we've been doing this for 14 years, so he's never known Christmas where his dad wasn't doing the Christmas store in those months leading up to that. And it really is an opportunity for families to work together, for parents to bring their children along and really show them the importance of helping others and the importance of giving.
I think that the Christmas season isn't always about what you want to put on your Christmas wish list, but how you can help other people. The energy on our distribution day is so high. We typically have music playing in the background, and there's lots of laughing and carrying on. Volunteers are all lined up and often wearing elf hats and other costumes and things like that sort of make the day a lot of fun. The families that come through really bring a lot of energy with them. There's such appreciation and such gratitude.
It really does just amp up the feeling that everyone has. There is something about the Christmas season that brings out that true want to help other people, and it's amazing how many people are willing to give their time. There are people who reach out to us early in the fall and say, when is it time to sign up for the Christmas store because I want to be involved with that project again this year. Those people come back to us every year and we see that list of our faithful participants grow and grow.
Because this event has been around for so long, I think it really does have a special place in the community. I meet people all the time who say, when I was younger, my grandmother was a part of the Christmas store and it was one of her favorite things to do every year, and I am so excited that now I'm able to be a part of it. We've even had people who have been the participants in the Christmas store before ask how they can become a volunteer in the next year because they want to pay it forward and help other families the same way. One year, kind of midway through the store, a gentleman walks through the door and he says to the people who are at the front counter, who's in charge here? So I saw what was going on, I scurried over the table and I said, that's me, how can I help you? He said, well, I need to talk to you when this is over. So I hooked him up with the volunteers who helped him find the toys that had been selected for his family and the other things that were available and waited for him at the end. And when we got to the end, he pulled me out into the hallway and I was really expecting that he was about to just give me some kind of complaint about the process or about how he had been treated.
Instead, he teared up and said that he didn't know what he was going to do and how important this was for him and how meaningful it was going to be to his children. For so many people who come through the line and gather the toys, it in some ways can be a very humbling experience, but for most of them, there is such gratitude and such well-wishing for us. It's such a mutual experience of gratitude and appreciation and really love just being a part of a community together.
I think a lot of people are looking for a way that they can do something meaningful and they want to help someone else, but they don't always know how to do it. And so being able to coordinate this program every year and give that opportunity is, for me, one of the most rewarding parts about it because there's no better way to start your Christmas season than helping someone else. And a great job on the storytelling and production by Madison and a special thanks to Jonathan Maddox of the Oxford Ole Miss Rotary Club. This is just another example of the generosity of the people of this great country and that's what we do here on this show. America is the star of the show in this Christmas season celebrating the generosity of the American people here on Our American Stories. $17.76 is fast becoming a favorite option for supporters. Go to OurAmericanStories.com now and go to the donate button and help us keep the great American stories coming.
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Whisper: medium.en / 2022-12-15 14:04:07 / 2022-12-15 14:08:33 / 4