For the past few years, Betty Houston, a retired Mobile County Public School educator, has made Christmas a little extra special for 300-400 students in the Semmes area.
As the holiday nears, she takes on her "Stuff the Stockings" project again and, with "a little help from her friends," fills the handmade, brightly-colored, Christmas stockings with such items as knit hats, knit gloves, pairs of socks, toothbrushes and toothpaste, small stuffed animals, small toys and coloring books for children in K-3rd grade. For older students, the gifts might include notebooks or game books, colored pencils or markers, pens and pencils and maybe a little something extra.
This year, she has more than the normal number of "elves" to help with the project, and has taken on a few more children. Fairly recently, Betty became acquainted with Shree Shaw Lovett, co-ordinator of National Day of Prayer of Alabama. Upon learning of "Stuff the Stockings," Shree recruited a team of volunteers from various churches, and along with the helpers Betty already had, they began to fill the 13"-15" stockings. And the goal of 350 stockings might well be exceeded.
A meeting is planned for December 6 to complete stocking collection and stuffing; then the delivery will begin.
First, a Party and Stocking Giveaway for area migrant children (51 last year) will be held at Semmes First Baptist Church on December 9th. Jingles the Clown and Santa will be on hand to meet and have fun with the children.
Then on December 12, the remainder of the stockings will be delivered to Semmes Elementary School, Tanner Williams Elementary, JE Turner Elementary, Allentown Elementary and Wilmer Elementary in the Semmes area.
And this year, children in Dixon Elementary School in Irvington have been added. "I retired from Dixon after 24 years, so they are close to my heart," Betty said. The stockings will go into the backpacks of those children who are in each school's Backpack Program.
Betty Houston has a reason for her empathy for children whose Christmas may not be as extravagant as their classmates. "I was never poor," she said. But there was never the finances for frills. As a result, she was teased by a couple of more well-off girls all during elementary school, because, she said, "My clothes were homemade and I didn't have the newest toys that I so desired."
And her reason for Stuff the Stockings? "I just felt led by the Lord to let these children know that Jesus loves them and so do we, and that Christmas is really about HIM." She said she wants "To give HOPE where things look hopeless."
Should anyone want to help with the program, either by collection items, by volunteering or by making a financial donation, call Betty Houston at 251-680- 7644.