Sometimes, you get more than you expect.
Even when the odds are stacked against you.
Such was the case when the 2020 “Spirit of Giving” holiday toy drive wrapped up. It was 2020, after all – the year none of us would like to repeat.
The Spirit of Giving, a community partnership between Paducah, Kentucky-based WPSD and Regions Bank, encourages toy donations for children in need across western Kentucky, southern Illinois, southeastern Missouri and northwestern Tennessee. The need for toys was far greater than usual.
“2020 was an especially important year for Spirit of Giving given how many people were financially impacted by COVID-19,” said Brandy Mitchell, market executive for Regions in Paducah.
But the fear was donations would be down.
Indeed, they were.
But 2020 had one more surprise in store. And this time – it was a good one.
In the final days of the drive, a new record was set – 9,000 toys were collected. They would be distributed by more than 20 nonprofits serving the area. And Christmas was a little bit brighter for more children than ever, thanks to the Spirit of Giving.
Here, we introduce you to two community partners who helped make it happen.
Main Street Youth Center – Murray, Kentucky:
Pam and David Hudspeth believe they have the best jobs in the world. So much so, they haven’t taken a paycheck in 34 years.
“Giving our time is a ministry,” said Pam. “It’s a blessing.”
The Hudspeths’ work began when they saw a need to provide Western Kentucky youth with a safe, fun place to gather. In 1987, the Main Street Youth Center opened its doors. David is the center director; Pam, the treasurer. Their children and grandchildren have helped throughout the years, along with additional volunteers.
Drop in on a typical day, and the center is abuzz with children ages 7 to 18 doing crafts or playing basketball, pool or ping pong. There’s also a quiet spot for the 50 center regulars to finish homework. But this is far more than just an activity space. This is a community.
“I know their names,” said Pam. “I know their faces.”
So, when the opportunity to receive Christmas gifts for the center’s youth occurred through the Spirit of Giving project, the Hudspeths jumped at the chance.
“We were ecstatic to be a first-time recipient,” said Pam. “The quality of the donated toys and bikes was amazing. Everything was just, ‘Wow!’”
While the center is temporarily closed due to the pandemic, the Hudspeths used the space to create a holiday store experience overflowing with dolls, trucks and more for parents to shop for their children.
“Our first thought was, ‘How are we going to distribute all of these toys?’” said Pam. “But the next day, we’d walk in and see that everything had been cleared out and say, ‘Oh, me.’”
In addition to the youth they serve, the Hudspeths also shared their toy treasure with others, including area churches and a nearby housing development. Food and household supplies were also distributed.
“We wanted to share with families that had no other option and no one to reach out to for help,” said Pam.
The reactions of families benefitting from the project have remained with Hudspeth.
“It’s hard to tell somebody who’s always had something what this means,” she said. “But I’ve been in their shoes. The emotions you go through, the look in their eyes … I knew exactly what they were feeling. Moms would start crying. It’s life-changing. It leaves an impression you won’t soon forget. A lot of families were blessed by this.”
Pam believes she and David are equally blessed from the generosity they’ve received during the last 34 years, and especially the past 10 months.
“All these years, I wondered if it would last,” she said about the center’s funding support. “When the pandemic began and we closed March 11, that was my fear. David is the rock; he had faith. The checks continue to arrive in the mailbox. It has amazed me. What we’ve learned is people are still giving.”
Proof that miracles can happen any time of year, not just at Christmas.
Safe Family Resource Center – Graves County, Kentucky:
“We’re an extremely welcoming place – kind of like Mayberry.”
It’s the feeling Monique Zuber experienced when she arrived as Safe Family Resource Center’s program coordinator in 2017. It’s the feeling she’s provided to 550 Farmington and Symsonia Elementary School students since.
“My purpose here on Earth is to serve people,” said Zuber. “It goes back to my faith to share my skill set and God-given talents to help others who have no voice for themselves.”
Safe Family provides after-school care, educational programming, referrals to community partners and more.
“We have a lot of grandparents raising grandchildren,” said Zuber. “We’re here to help provide stability for families.”
That stability includes assistance for those facing food insecurity, help with finding affordable rental properties and making holiday magic happen through the center’s annual Community Christmas Connection. When families turn to them at Christmas, Safe Family turns to the Spirit of Giving.
“Some of our families are stressed and overwhelmed the other eleven months of the year,” said Zuber. “This support is just a weight off their back. They might not be able to provide Christmas without it.”
Families earn points by attending classes on topics like cooking and budgeting. Then, they spend the points at the Community Christmas Connection.
“It’s like going to the store,” said Zuber. “They choose what they want for their children.”
For families in quarantine due to COVID-19, Zuber conducted virtual shopping visits, sending them toy photos.
“We had to think outside the box,” said Zuber.
It’s something Family Resource has been doing since the pandemic began.
“We immediately began calling families to see what they needed,” said Zuber. “When you take away the usual hustle and bustle, you see what’s really important.”
Things like making food deliveries. And providing Christmas.
“We want to convey how much we appreciate Regions’ support of this project,” said Zuber. “This relieves our parents’ worries.”
Peace of mind offering a priceless gift.