Education

She has her own struggles, but that’s not stopping her from helping families in need

Project Giving volunteers, from left, Reece Woodward, Spencer Slade, Toni Slade and Natalie Woodward are pictured with bikes donated for the Family Christmas Adoption Project.
Project Giving volunteers, from left, Reece Woodward, Spencer Slade, Toni Slade and Natalie Woodward are pictured with bikes donated for the Family Christmas Adoption Project.

Most people haven’t even started thinking about Christmas yet, but a local nonprofit has been in the holiday spirit since summer. Project Giving is gearing up for its Family Christmas Adoption Project, which provided presents to more than 200 Macon families last year.

Matching community donors with families in need is no small task, but Natalie Woodward feels blessed to be a part of it. Lovingly called “Mrs. Merry Christmas,” she’s been an incredible gift to the organization, said Toni Slade, who founded Project Giving with her husband, Lance, in 1997.

Woodward has been the Project Giving’s office manager and Family Christmas Adoption Project coordinator for the past three years and was a volunteer before that. She’s so dedicated to her work that this season she’s doing it while on bed rest.

The organization’s yearlong initiative is to “build bridges of hope” for local families that have members who are seriously and chronically ill, Slade said. It takes care of needs such as rental payments, utility bills, lawn care, groceries and toiletries, and transportation to medical treatments.

For the Christmas project, school counselors and educators refer families in need to Project Giving, and then families, businesses, churches, organizations and other groups “adopt” the families and buy presents on the children’s wish lists. The “adopters” or Project Giving volunteers deliver the presents before the holiday.

People can also give money online and let volunteers do the shopping. Every penny donated to the organization goes to helping families, Slade said.

“To know that their kids are provided for Christmas just takes a big weight off their shoulders,” Woodward said. “It’s just a great way to show a tangible gift of love to those you don’t know, and you get so much in return. Even though you’re blessing someone else, you’re blessed tenfold back.”

Woodward, a paraplegic since a car wreck at age 16, and husband, Donny, live in Macon with their two children, a niece, a nephew and Woodward’s mother.

Woodward said she was in good health until she turned 40 two years ago. Since then, she’s been in and out of the hospital with various health issues, she said. For the past four weeks, she’s been on doctor-ordered bed rest to allow deep sores to heal and to avoid infection.

“I think the Lord keeps me going,” Woodward said. “He knows the good work that we’re doing and the lives that are being touched by the program. I believe that God gives me the ability to adapt from the bed to continue the program, just to continue volunteering and being a part of Project Giving.”

Woodward has kept the ball rolling by working on her laptop and cellphone while in bed at home, Slade said. Woodward said she hopes to be back on the move by the beginning of December for the project’s busiest time.

“She is a warrior. She won’t be held down,” Slade said. “There is no stopping Natalie. It doesn’t matter what trial, it doesn’t matter the difficulty, she is full speed ahead and she accomplishes what five people can’t. She is a whirlwind. She is amazing.”

Tanisha Jefferson, a counselor at Ingram-Pye Elementary, refers families from her school to Project Giving. She said Woodward is “like a secret Santa” who does a lot behind the scenes for the project. She has been inspired by her dedication and passion.

“You can just tell she believes in what she’s doing. She wants to bring joy to people. She’s just a loving person,” Jefferson said. “People like her, they don’t care about the limelight. They just do things from their heart.”

Andrea Honaker: 478-744-4382, @TelegraphAndrea

Want to help?

What: Project Giving is still looking for donors for its Family Christmas Adoption Project. People, businesses, churches and groups can “adopt” families in need and provide them with Christmas presents.

How: Go to projectgiving.net, email natalie@projectgiving.net or call 478-397-4135. Donations can also be made online.

Note: Project Giving does not accept nominations for families in need. Families in need are referred through schools.

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