|A Christmas of kindness to remember |
The wind was chilly with the dampness of the night in a year where the weather cannot decide to be traditionally cool or embark on a journey of incessant balminess.
Brandon Hopkins, son of Lisa Hopkins of Dresden, asked Santa last Thursday for the things he wanted most for Christmas.
It didn’t matter to two people. Lottie Cooper and Jerry Spain were busy.
Children, 70 of them of all ages, were expected in the meeting hall within minutes and Cooper and Spain wanted to be ready for families who would arrive.
For certain families who live in Weakley County, this would be their only Christmas.
Cooper, along with members of the Dresden American Legion Auxilary, set a brightly decorated table filled with home-made sandwiches, cheerful sprinkled cookies and cakes awaiting for the kids’ arrival.
And then, from every nook around the Dresden American Legion, everyone could hear the sound of laughter.
Dozens of children barrelled in from the darkness, eyeing presents carefully boxed near a Christmas tree. Each box filled with toys and clothing, shoes and much-needed coats.
And Cooper, who has held this party for the past 22 years, took a sigh that everyone knows is a yearly event.
She wants every year to be perfect.
And if you ask the children, it is.
Cooper has spent decades with Northwest Tennessee Economic Development Council (NWTEDC.) Her job is to help those who are at an impasse for whatever reason.
Layoffs, health issues, unexpected tragedy are but just some of the reasons her office exists. It is to help those who need a helping hand, although she is the first to agree that what she does as Community Manager at Northwest Tennessee Economic Development Council is not a hand-out, but a hand up.
She distributes commodities, assists with utilities and makes sure there is help for those who need it.
And each year, there will be a Christmas for the children of Weakley County, because Cooper is the glue that makes it so.
Spain, and Jackie Darnell, assist her in her yearly quest to find the money and donations the project needs.
“We made sure every child had a coat,” Spain, who is the manager of the Dresden American Legion, said. “Every kid needs a coat.”
Billy Collins, a musician from Union City, played his guitar and led the children in Christmas Carols as they sang along. The shyer children just watched, their eyes on the door, waiting for Santa Claus with a quiet desperation and hopeful anticipation
Linda McDaniel, who manages commodities at NWTNEDC, has been on hand for years to read the children “The Night Before Christmas.” And, then in the tradition of each NWTEDC Christmas Party, as the story ends, McDaniel asks the children if they believe in Santa and to call for him.
The room became a roar of excitement as children shout his name “Santa” as loud as they can.
Then, without fail, the big guy in red enters. And, the children go wild.
Santa Claus meets with each child, asking them about themselves, passing out the large boxes. Paper flies in little bits around the room as children look inside to see what Santa has brought them.
And in what feels like a moment, it’s over.
Santa said before he left there were things that he knew he could not give the children. He said that some asked for their fathers to return home, others wanted other things, unattainable for him to give, although he knew he could give them the comfort to believe.
And in many ways, that’s enough.
By the end of the evening, as cars were packed and the roar went to hush, Cooper, Spain and Darnell took a moment to reflect.
And, it was agreed by these three people, that the truest spirit of Christmas had been felt for another year.