Distributing love, compassion by the box

By Erika Pedroza | Published Saturday, December 22, 2012

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For the 13th year, Wise County AgriLife Extension agent Santa and his steadfast 4-Her elves delivered Christmas gifts to Head Start students in Decatur and Bridgeport.

Wednesday, 97 children graciously accepted boxes filled with gifts donated by 4-H members and their families during two distributions – in Decatur in the morning and Bridgeport in the afternoon.

Some kids whooped and hollered when their names were called to accept their boxes from Santa, played by Extension Agent Todd Vineyard.

CHRISTMAS AND NUTRITION – Jamila Tapia was one of 97 Head Start students in Decatur and Bridgeport who accepted a gift box from Extension agent Todd Vineyard as Santa Claus Wednesday. Along with the gifts, students also received a fruit and vegetable snack pack from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension office for their five-a-day program. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

“You would’ve thought he was being called down for ‘The Price is Right’,” said Chrissy Karrer, 4-H and youth development agent. “Short of high-fiving everyone on his way to the front, he pretty much was.”

Other kids sat quietly until their names were called a third or fourth time, then bashfully received the large boxes. But once the wrapping paper was torn off and the contents exposed, the reactions were simultaneous gasps, shrieks of excitement and giggles.

“I got shoes! They’re the coolest shoes ever!” one young boy said. “I can’t wait to get home to put them on.”

A young girl pranced out of the room, donning her brand-new striped hat and gloves. Another boy didn’t notice the action figures and toy cars in his box – he was more amused by the brightly-colored socks.

“One girl started crying because she got a Barbie she had been wanting,” said 4-H member Lauryn Luttrull. “I remember being little and getting a Barbie and being like, ‘Woo!’ and playing with it maybe once and never playing with it again. But she was so grateful and thought it was the best thing ever. It reminded us to be grateful for what we have.”

Boot boxes, donated by David’s Western Store in Decatur, were distributed in November for any of the county’s 340 4-H club members and their families to fill with clothes, shoes, toys and toiletries for a specific child, an average $60 to $70 cost. Once the boxes were returned, Extension agents hosted a wrapping party, complete with refreshments, to prepare for distribution.

“The kids would challenge one another to see who could wrap the fastest or who could wrap the most,” Karrer said. “It’s a fun night.”

But the 4-Hers agree that the most fun is in delivering the gifts to the children.

“It’s one of my favorite community service projects,” Fallon Sachse said. “Just seeing those kids’ faces light up.”

Lyndi Luttrull added: “They were so excited with something as little as a toothbrush.”

In addition to the distribution of gift boxes, 4-H club members and Extension agents also led a dance exercise and gave each child a fruit and vegetable snack-pack as part of the Better Living For Texans “five-a-day” program.

“Character-building, healthy lifestyle choices, Christmas cheer – it’s all very important,” said Connie Shawn, the local Better Living for Texans program assistant. “We definitely want the nutrition element in there.”

Its inclusion ensures adherence to grant guidelines; rules that also outline Head Start as an appropriate benefactor based on federal income guidelines for poverty.

Rebecca Connell with Texas Neighborhood Services Head Start commended the project and its volunteers.

“Just seeing the smiles on the faces of the kids says it all,” she said. “The 4-H kids are so generous and helpful. They interact with the Head Start kids in such a positive way. The kids love them. It’s a neat, neat deal.”

4-H members also delivered 251 games and books – just past their goal of 250 – to Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth Dec. 3. Although the kids enjoyed visiting with nurses and touring the facility, Wednesday’s project filled a void.

“I understand why we weren’t able to see the kids at the hospital,” said Logan Moore. “But it’s so neat to see the people you bought for and their reaction.”

“It warms your heart,” Christian Cross interjected.

Lauryn added: “I saw the box I made delivered, and the person that got it was so happy. It was really special.”

As is the rest of the program, organizers and volunteers said.

“This is what I look forward to every year,” Shawn said. “When we do this, Christmas begins.”

ALL SMILES – Rosendo Fernandez Jr. of Decatur receives a box of gifts donated by local 4-H members and their families with a grin. The gift boxes contained a set of clothes, shoes, toiletries and toys donated by 4-H members and their families. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

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