Sertoma makes Christmas brighter for 680 Jackson County kids

The roads leading to Shops at Seymour were well traveled Christmas Eve morning.

Upon arrival, volunteers walked into the Jackson County Sertoma Club’s Christmas Miracle Headquarters in Suite 211, picked up boxes of wrapped toys and bicycles, had blankets placed in the boxes on the way out and loaded them in their vehicles to deliver to homes around Jackson County.

In a nearly three-hour time span, enough volunteers had stopped by to help with the service club’s effort to deliver gifts to 680 kids ages 12 and under from 293 households.

“It’s Christmas now,” co-chairman John Fox said, laughing, as Suite 2011 was empty right after 8:30 a.m. “You can tell it’s Christmas when they’re all leaving.”

Whether people shopped for gifts from one of the angel trees or through a workplace drive, donated toys, clothing, blankets or money or helped wrap gifts or deliver them, Fox said the contributions are appreciated.

“Contributions and the toy drives at industries around Seymour and the angel trees were all good this year. People were very generous,” Fox said. “Jackson County’s generosity continues to amaze everybody in Sertoma, myself included. The generosity of Jackson County folks is unparalleled when it comes to Christmas Miracle and seeing that people have something for Christmas.”

Fox said 13 groups helped with wrapping gifts this year.

“We finished a day sooner than last year,” he said. “A lot of the groups are sports teams and clubs and FFA, church groups, school groups.”

They was a combination of experienced and new groups.

“We’ve got a group out of Medora … they’ve wrapped here for 35 years,” Fox said. “Then we’ve had new groups every year. We had a new group, Borchers youth.”

The latter group is from St. Paul Lutheran Church Borchers.

“We wrapped gifts earlier this week, and we all just decided to come help drop them off today,” Katie Otte, 18, said.

She said the church has been a drop-off site for angel trees in the past, and she has helped wrap gifts with the Seymour High School FFA chapter before, but this was her first time wrapping and delivering with other youth at the church.

“Just seeing how many little kids and families are (in need),” Otte said of her reason for helping. “I feel like we’re kind of a little spoiled, so I think it’s nice to be part of everyone else’s Christmas.”

Lizzie Morris, 15, echoed Otte’s last comment.

“I feel like (it’s important) for us to realize how it actually is for other people our age,” she said.

While Morris wasn’t able to help wrap gifts, she participated in the SHS girls basketball team’s effort in shopping for Christmas gifts for those in need. That made her want to help with Christmas Miracle, too.

“Just seeing the little kids’ faces when we went and delivered and the stories they tell, one family wasn’t even going to have Christmas,” she said. “(One girl) was 10, and she wasn’t going to get anything, and she started crying when we walked in with a bunch of presents.”

Since she also wasn’t able to help wrap gifts, Elsie Herbert, 15, made it a point to help deliver.

“It was a good experience making people’s Christmas and day,” she said. “It was something fun that I wanted to be involved in.”

For cousins Stacey Townsend and Chealsy Parr of Seymour, getting up early to help deliver for Christmas Miracle is a Christmas Eve tradition.

They were thankful this year’s temperature was in the 50s despite the roads being wet from recent rain. Last year, it was snowy.

“It makes it a little warmer,” Parr said, smiling.

Helping out a good cause makes their heart warm.

“I think for both of us, No. 1, we just obviously like spending time together because we’re family,” Parr said. “To be able to give back to the community … with her working at the school and then I work as a social worker in the community, we’ve encountered families in need regularly. Just being able to take time during the holiday season when things are chaotic and we can fit this into our schedule, why not?”

Townsend said it’s a fun experience.

“Just get up early in the morning and just spend the day together,” she said. “It’s different. It’s fun.”

Leslie Martin of Seymour also has helped deliver for Christmas Miracle over the years, but for her husband, Gary Martin, this year was his first time.

Leslie’s father, Howard Wente, is a member of Sertoma.

“He has been in it for as long as I can remember, and I’ve been helping out whenever I can several years,” Leslie said. “I took a break and I haven’t helped for a couple years, and then this year, we were able to, so I said, ‘Let’s go help.’”

Gary retired last year, so he said this was the right time to join the effort.

“We did the wrapping the first night, so we told Howard, ‘Yeah, we’ll be there. We’ll help out,’” Gary said.

Leslie said she gets a lot out of delivering the gifts.

“I just like seeing the recipients’ faces and just helping others out. It just makes me happy to help other people,” she said. “Usually, it’s the adults that answer the door. … Sometimes, we do get to see some of the kids, and I like just to see how happy they are.”

Gary said he and his wife celebrated Christmas with their grandchildren on Saturday, so it was time for them to bring joy to others the next day.

“It’s all about the kids, and I’m so much about the kids, to make kids happy,” he said.

Being part of Christmas Miracle for the first time, Gary now realizes how big of an undertaking it is.

“It’s a massive project. It is unbelievable,” he said. “Like right now, you’re seeing all of these people at 7 a.m. and the people that we passed on the way in to get up. It’s Christmas Eve. You don’t have to get up this early if you don’t want to, but everybody is here getting up and delivering packages to kids that need them.”