Well, it was an uplifting holiday weekend for me on the Coast. Out-of-town volunteers and the people of South Mississippi proved again how much solemn resolve they could muster to share their hearts with neighbors in need.
On Saturday, I went over to Bay St. Louis to cover a Christmas eve party at an emergency distribution center. After wandering around for a good bit of time, I glommed onto little Maddy, a 3-year-old who was much less concerned about the fact that she was at a party than with piling dirt and grass into a little pile. Story follows, of course courtesy of Sun Herald:
BAY ST. LOUIS - Madeline "Maddy" Bellman intently piled handfuls of brown grass and dirt into a small mound in the outfield of Bay St. Louis' McDonald Field during a Christmas celebration Saturday.
"I'm making a mountain with a straw on top," the 3-year-old said.
A pile of gift-wrapped shoeboxes next to Maddy along the outfield fence dwarfed her and her mountain. The gifts, organized and brought down by volunteers with Quota International, a community service group, would be handed out later in the morning to the 400 children invited to the party.
"The shoeboxes came from over 20 cities throughout the United States," said Vicki Miller, a member of the group's local chapter who was dressed up like a rock 'n' roll elf, complete with glittery white stars painted on her face. "The boxes have crayons, school supplies and dolls for girls and boys."
At the party, recorded Christmas music could be heard coming from a red-and-white striped tent placed over home plate. Inside, a band named "Tribute" set up on a makeshift dance floor of plywood and shipping palettes.
The band started up.
Maddy, looking content from a project finished, stood and yelled, "Now it's finished!"
"Here's your flag, honey," said her mother, Angela Bellman. Maddy stuck the flag, a straight twig with a piece of grey duct tape at the tip, into her mound.
Sleigh bells sounded in the distance and a group of children playing football and bingo looked up the street.
Santa Claus walked up to the field and Maddy took off from her mother's side to meet him.
"Santa!" Maddy yelled at him, as if Santa didn't know his own name.
"Ho, Ho, Ho!" he said loudly.
Moments later, the glare of a weakened sun filtering through a heavy Coast fog made Maddy squish her face to protect her eyes and then look down. There on the ground she found her mountain. As quickly as that, Maddy forgot about Santa and went back to piling grass on the mound.
A while later, after making her mountain even higher and intermittently running through the crowd, Maddy curled up on one of the folding chairs. She sat backwards on it and rested her chin on the seat back.
It was not yet noon, but Maddy had already had a full Christmas Eve day.
The story was twice as long, but so goes the heavy hand of editing for a daily newspaper.
I went along with some volunteers on Sunday, Christmas day, who used their own holiday to prepare, pack and deliver turkey dinners to the needy. I met some really interesting people at the place, including a Duke University student who dragged his parents down from NC to do some volunteering on the Coast. He was a public policy student at the Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy, a great school with some really smart people coming out of it.
Sorry, my mind started wandering there for a sec. Where was I? Oh yeah, meals to the needy.
Another interesting guy I met there was Jamey Turner, who was entertaining the volunteers with a bunch of cognac snifters that, with wet fingers that he slid atop their rims, he played Mozart and Beethoven on.
Story is at the following link:
Again, I don't know who's doing the editing, but they hacked off the lede in the online story. I was proud of that sentence because I used both 'nary' and 'awash.' Maybe that's why they hacked it. Oh well.