Project Noel began in 2007 when employees of the Jackson County Department of Human Services learned that there would be no Christmas toy project in our community to assist their clients. The employees decided to hold their own in house toy drive. When word of the situation reached the Circle of Friends United Methodist Women their hearts to help were kindled. By chance the Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church had been chosen to receive gifts from a national drive conducted by donors who wish to remain anonymous. Project Noel was born when members of the Altus First United Methodist Church stepped out of the boat to organize a large scale Christmas toy project that involved the whole community. The success of Project Noel has exceeded everyoneís expectations.
Mike Pate, Social Services Supervisor with DHS said “In my 30 years of working with Toys for Tots, Operation Santa Claus and similar programs, Project Noel has been the most successful. We are very pleased that the church has decided to organize Project Noel again for 2009.” Pate went on to say, “I believe Project Noel is so successful because the parents are given the opportunity to choose toys for their own children and to gift wrap them if they want. The parents are put at ease and treated with great respect in God’s house by the church members who distributed the gifts.” Pate added, “There is one parent who was helped in the past by Project Noel that is now serving on the organizational committee. Also, the fact that this is a community project adds to its success. I have also received a donation from a group of low income adults who wanted to help this project. Project Noel has touched lives in a positive away.”
Even though we remain luckier than most here in SW Oklahoma there are many families and businesses feeling the pinch as the belt has been tightened to the last notch. Many businesses have had to cut hours or reduce Christmas bonuses this year. When families have to decide between rent, utilities, food, and transportation to work or toys for Christmas, necessities do come first. Families in need are expected to reach around 325, with 800 to 1,000 children being served by Project Noel 2009.
Any family living in Jackson County who truly feels they have a need is welcome to apply. Social Service Workers at DHS will begin screening families on Tuesday and will issue a voucher to the parents or guardian of each needy child. Families do not have to be currently receiving assistance for DHS to receive gifts from Project Noel. Applications can be made Dec. 1-4 and Dec 7-11 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Department of Human Services Center, 201 S. Main St. Altus.
“This is a huge undertaking. The help of the whole community is needed,” said Pate, 1st UMC people organizer for Project Noel. “Local businesses, organizations and families can help by donating toys, gifts or money. Church members will be praying for the success of Project Noel and putting in many hours to shop for, organize and distribute the gifts. DHS employees have already begun collecting gifts among themselves. Several donors have already sent money to this year project. These funds will be used by a group who will brave the 5 a.m. shoppers on Friday to get the best bargains they can.” She went on the say, “First United Methodist Church believes in extravagant generosity. God blesses us every day. His greatest gift, His son Jesus, is celebrated with the giving of gifts at Christmas. This is why my church is involved in Project Noel.”
Community members can help by bringing any new gift to the First United Methodist Church or the Department of Human Services. Gifts should range in price from $5 to $20. Suggestions include non -violent toys and gifts for boys and girls, ages infants to 17 years; sports equipment, balls and air pumps; books; hats, gloves and socks for any age or gender; watches or jewelry for pre teen and teen girls and boys; grooming items for teens; fashion items such as belts, purses, wallets, sweaters for teens, male and female’ electronics for teens; donations of AA and AAA batteries, wrapping paper and tape are needed to complete Project Noel. People may already have these items at home they are willing to donate.
Financial donations for Project Noel will be accepted today through Dec. 17 at the First United Methodist Church, 317 N. Main. The office entrance is located under the covered driveway on the south side of the building at Main and Cypress. Checks should be made to 1st UMC/Project Noel. Donations are tax deductible and statements will be issued by the church. Donors may remain anonymous if they wish.
Questions can be directed to The Rev. Margie VanOostrum, 482-0795 or Mike Pate, 480-3408. For additional information see the project website at www.projectnoelaltus.org.