A night of hope: A Christmas party for 100 children in need

By ISABELLE ALTMAN

The Commercial Dispatch

of Columbus

AP Member Exchange

COLUMBUS, Miss. — Glenda Buckhalter, community outreach coordinator for the city of Columbus, recently learned six homeless children she works with are not expecting anything for Christmas.

The children’s mother is working a 15-hour per week job and was just evicted from her home.

“She told me, ‘I told my children not to look for anything for Christmas, that whatever I’m able to do for them will have to be done after Christmas,'” Buckhalter said. “I thought during Christmas time, every child wants something.”

It turned out the family wasn’t alone — another mother told Buckhalter a similar story and when she began talking with other area nonprofits, they knew of families in the same circumstances.

That’s how Buckhalter got the idea for “A Holiday Night of Hope,” a Christmas celebration for 100 needy children in the city.

Normally, Buckhalter said, she plans a gala around the holidays for businesses and individuals that sponsor her community outreach efforts — working with needy and homeless people in Columbus, helping them pay bills, find temporary housing and referring them to other local nonprofits that can help.

“Instead of having a sit-down dinner for adults, I thought, why not make a fun night for children?” she said.

The event will be held at 7 p.m. Dec. 21 in the upper floor of Trotter Convention Center downtown. It will feature food stations, including nachos, cupcakes, popcorn and more. It also will feature games with prizes the kids can win.

“We wanted to give a fun night for these children that have struggles throughout the year,” Buckhalter said.

‘WHAT BETTER WAY TO SHOW LOVE?’

Most of the 100 children are clients Buckhalter works with, along with a handful of others from other nonprofits. Buckhalter stressed they’re not the same children receiving gifts from the annual Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program.

Many of the children have parents who are disabled, homeless or otherwise in need and unable to give the children presents.

“They are barely keeping a roof over their head and the children’s heads,” she said.

That’s why she’s hoping for enough donations of both money and toys to give each child two presents — a gift card and something else, particularly if the child has requested a particular item.

Buckhalter has already begun collecting pajamas, board games, toy trucks, dolls and gift cards to McDonald’s and Walmart — she’s even collected Pampers at certain parents’ request.

She added she’s still determining whether the presents should be wrapped and labeled for certain children.

“I’m hoping that we have enough that we can go through and choose a gift and choose a gift card,” she said.

She’s already found volunteers from other nonprofits and from United Christian Church, which is sending 10 volunteers to help set up the party.

The church’s pastor, Steven James, said church members have worked with Buckhalter several years volunteering with community outreach programs. This year, he said, they were particularly excited to be working with children.