By Joel Hall
On Thursday, members of the Clayton County chapter of Rotary Club International -- one of the nation's oldest service organizations -- gathered at the J. Charley Griswell Senior Center in Jonesboro to put together 350 gift baskets for local seniors and people staying at Rainbow House and Securus House.
More than 40 working professionals took time out of their work weeks to sign cards and sort through boxes of grapefruits, naval oranges, Granny Smith apples, bananas, mints, and candy in order to assemble the baskets.
Some 200 of baskets will be given to seniors at the center, and the remainder will be given to abused and neglected children at Rainbow House, to battered women seeking shelter at Securus House, and to people on the Rotary Club's weekly Meals On Wheels delivery route.
The 35 year-old project is almost as old as the local Rotary Club chapter itself, which is about 40 years old. Walt Phillips started the project as a way to recognize senior citizens. He is a charter member of the local Rotary Club and a former postmaster of the Forest Park Post Office.
After Phillips died two years ago, his protégé, David Enniss, executive director of Clayton County Family Care, Inc., took over the project.
"He was my sponsor in joining Rotary," said Enniss. "When he started declining, I started taking over the project ... out of respect for him.
"It's a good way to put yourself in the Christmas spirit," Enniss continued. "With so little effort, you can do so much good for people and put a smile on their faces."
The seniors at the center look forward to receiving the baskets every year, said Debra Jordan, a site coordinator at the J. Charley Griswell Senior Center.
"For some of them, this is all that they will get as far as Christmas is concerned," said Jordan. She said the baskets provide nutrition and necessary vitamins for the seniors, many of whom are not able to cook for themselves.
"Service above self," is the Rotary Club International's motto, and Claudia Mertl, former governor of Rotary Club District 6900, said the project in Clayton is an example of the what motto represents.
"This is something the Clayton County Rotary Club does to give back to the community," said Mertl. "This is a way to let people know that we care for people who are less fortunate ... making a difference in people's lives makes a difference to us."