These are the sounds of the Reindeer Gang at work.
Hammers repairing a roof damaged by a storm.
Children squealing with delight at the sight of toys under the Christmas tree.
Wedding bells against the backdrop of an old cotton barn in the middle of a beautiful pecan orchard.
And residents of St. Paul Apartments and Village opening more than 6,400 Christmas cards sent by area readers.
Yes, it has been a busy four weeks.
The Reindeer Gang is an annual Telegraph campaign that features individuals and families with needs during the holidays. Donations were made through sponsoring agencies, churches and charities, although some readers chose to help the individuals and families directly.
Charleen Brice is a single mother from Macon with six children whose home was destroyed by fire. She works at Wesley Glen Ministries, a community for adults with mental disabilities.
Readers stepped forward and contributed more than $1,700 to the family. Brice and her children were mostly in need of warm clothing. John Irwin, the chaplain and director of development at Wesley Glen, said an area of the fellowship hall was filled with donated clothes and household items.
Brice “was weeping with gratitude,” Irwin said. “I sent thank you notes to those who made contributions and told them they had given this family a Christmas.”
At St. Paul Apartments, 94-year-old Opal Alexander and the other 257 residents, many of whom live alone, received 6,442 Christmas cards from readers.
For the second straight year, Kim Zwally, a community affairs employee with the Bibb County school system, coordinated an effort with 30 Bibb schools to deliver Christmas cards to St. Paul and more than 1,400 residents at 14 other local nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
“Even if you can’t afford to do anything else, you can always write a note or send a card,” Zwally said. “And the children can make the cards.”
Reindeer Gang readers responded with near-record speed to help George Hamlin, a disabled Macon man whose roof was destroyed when a tree fell on his home during a storm.
Hamlin’s story appeared Nov. 25 and kicked off this year’s 10-part series. Debra Rollins, the director of Rebuilding Macon, suggested that the Reindeer Gang could easily have been renamed the Early Birds.
“By 7:30 that morning, after the paper had hit the streets, I was already getting offers to fix the roof,” Rollins said. “By 9:30, when the banks and credit unions opened, people were making donations to cover the cost. Within four hours, we had offers to get everything done.”
The roof was repaired and members of the Peach County Fire Department removed three truckloads of limbs and debris from the huge oak tree Hamlin’s father had planted at the corner of the house in 1959. Hamlin’s wheelchair ramp was also repaired.
“It made me feel wonderful,” he said. “I’m so grateful. Now, when it rains, I don’t have to get a bucket or garbage can to catch the water.”
‘Ringing off the hook’
Pace Tyson, a senior at West Laurens High School in Dublin, started an organization called Soldier On to help provide homeless veterans with furniture, appliances, clothing, blankets, linens, household goods and personal hygiene products.
He rented two storage units for donations, and he added a third after the Reindeer Gang story appeared.
“The phone was ringing off the hook,” he said. “We almost completely filled up the third storage room.”
Tyson said he gave away items to about 20 families last weekend. “It was supposed to start at 10, and there were some people already there at 7:30,” he said. “We had given everything away by 10:30. It was a phenomenal success. We were so happy to be able to help those families have a good Christmas.’
After being married for 16 years and having seven children, Casey and Kitty Robinson, of Culloden, will finally get to have the wedding they never had.
They eloped when they were young and later regretted not having a wedding that included family and friends.
Delise Knight and her husband, Paul, are co-owners of Pineola Farms in Fort Valley, where about 20 weddings and receptions are held every year in a historic cotton barn.
Delise is teaming up with a local caterer, wedding photographer and disc jockey to donate their services to the reception for the Robinson family. It will follow a February wedding at Musella Baptist Church, where Pastor Joe McDaniel will perform the ceremony. A member of the congregation is making Kitty’s wedding dress and others are providing floral arrangements. Donations made to a wedding fund at a bank in Roberta will go toward other costs.
“It’s hard to express the gratitude and joy we feel about this wedding,” Kitty said. “It has been a very long wait, so we can hardly believe this is really going to happen. I hope others are inspired by the giving that is taking place on our behalf. Through this, I’ve also found that many couples are in the same situation, longing to have a wedding ceremony. I hope they’re encouraged and know that it’s never too late. We pray the Lord will be glorified through the entire process.”
She said the family has started a Facebook page called “Robinson Wedding” for anyone who would like to follow the process and to express appreciation to those who are making the special day possible.
Dot Pinkerton, director of Lighthouse Missions, said readers of the Reindeer Gang reached out with more than $1,800 in contributions to help Alicia Hardman. Hardman, a single mother from Warner Robins, has been working several jobs to support her four sons and two nieces who live with her.
Pinkerton said she also received an additional contribution for Carlos Brown, a Macon man who was featured in the Reindeer Gang in 2010. Brown, who was diagnosed with cancer, became an ordained minister and started a prison ministry after spending eight years in prison.
Kids Yule Love was able to provide the children of Tracy and ZaShica Leggett of Macon with toys and games for Christmas. Tracy and ZaShica both lost their jobs in the past year and have been seeking employment.
‘Affected each of our hearts’
At Macon Outreach, director Johnny Hathcock said thanks to the generosity of the Reindeer Gang, the family of Chad and Alicia Moore received more than $1,300 in contributions, as well as donations of food, clothing and toys for their young son, Kaison. Alicia has also had been contacted by local businesses about employment opportunities.
Likewise, readers opened their hearts to the family of 9-year-old Aden Floyd, of Warner Robins, who has had 44 hours of brain surgery since July and is now going through rehabilitation.
Toni Slade, the founder of Project Giving, said about $1,000 was collected to help the Floyds with travel and other medical-related expenses.
“We have closely witnessed the true grit of Aden and his family as he battled for life on his long, arduous journey of overcoming the odds,” Slade said. “At Project Giving, we can all see ourselves in the Floyds’ eyes, knowing that disease and illness does not discriminate. Their story has greatly affected each of our hearts in our organization.”
Katina Wilson of Warner Robins was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago. She is a caregiver for her mother, Carolyn, who has had polio since she was a child and is now a paraplegic.
The Reindeer Gang asked readers for help with the purchase of a wheelchair-accessible van for the Wilsons. About $2,250 was contributed through Disability Connections in Macon, and donations will continue to be accepted after the holidays.
“Mom and I are not rich in material things, and we certainly juggle many physical and financial challenges,” Katina said. “However, since the article, through the outpouring of love and compassion of friends and strangers alike, I am reminded that we are truly blessed beyond measure. It is my hope that we will reach our goal of being able to purchase a handicap-accessible van. But, regardless of the final outcome, I will be forever grateful to everyone that has expressed their compassion through donations and prayers. As a caregiver and a daughter who loves her mom so very much, the encouragement and acts of kindness of others has given me a renewed hope. I thank everyone for caring enough to make a difference in both of our lives.”
Katina said she knew readers would have compassion because her mother’s physical challenges. But what happened after the story was published has touched her heart on many levels.
“I was not prepared for the outpouring of love and compassion that has been expressed toward me as well,” she said, “I would get stopped by strangers while I was running errands. One lady told me the article and my life were such an inspiration that she would remember us in her prayers. She encouraged me to ‘keep up the fight.’
“And, while I was running errands for work, I had to stop by a business to drop off paperwork. A gentleman there stopped me to let me know that the story meant so much that he was led to make a personal donation. I had two more errands to run for work on the way home, and I cried all the way through the errands and the rest of the way home.”
Reach Gris at 744-4275 or firstname.lastname@example.org.