Project Merry Christmas still bringing smiles

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 6, 2006

Just because Christmas is gone, doesn’t mean the smiles of more than 700 children who benefited from Project Merry Christmas, or PMC, have to disappear as well.

PMC coordinator Mary Sue Henry said the program was able to distribute bikes, basketballs, footballs, board games, and “dolls galore,” including strollers and dollhouses to 784 children, ages 2-12, in Marengo County.

“This is the largest amount collected in the history of the program,” director of the Marengo County Department of Human Resources Jack Marler said. “And it is remarkable that in 2005 with such great need because of all the natural disasters, that the response to Project Merry Christmas would be so overwhelming.”

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This past year’s project raised a total of $19,200, including donations ranging from a nickel from a kindhearted first grader to a $5,000 contribution.

Henry said the program had been steady at approximately $17,500 for the past few years, but hit a new high in 2005.

“We are hoping it’ll stay at this much or that we’ll raise even more next year,” Henry said.

Even though PMC began as a voucher program when families were given a specific amount according to size, the program also began to accept monetary donations.

The money is used to purchase various toys for Christmas and also for emergency situations throughout the year, while the vouchers are sponsored by local vendors and can be traded for gifts.

“Some people adopt a family and some send money, but the folks in Marengo are very giving people,” Henry said. “We gave vouchers to about 400 children and the other half received a gift. We gave them games, but they were board games. We didn’t go the electronic route. That’s too expensive.”

Although the vouchers were mailed to families, the Tombigbee Emergency Medical Services staff volunteered their services to help distribute the toys.

“Some of the toys were delivered, but some had to be picked up by the parents. It was a great help to us for them to volunteer their time,” Henry said. “And anyone who wants to help this year can just call us and we’ll work something out. This is totally a volunteer effort.”

Among other volunteers and contributors, Henry said, were churches, civic groups, clubs, Sunday school classes, businesses and individuals from across the county and beyond.

“I think other counties may be doing something similar to PMC because they’ve called and asked us about getting it started,” she said. “But I think we are the only county to do it on such a large scale since people from surrounding counties call to participate in ours.”

However, PMC only caters to Marengo County families.

“We don’t want to get into more than we can handle,” Henry said.