Photo by Heather Middleton
By Curt Yeomans
As he put a large, gift-filled, plastic bag by his feet outside Clayton County Police Headquarters in Jonesboro on Monday, Forest Park resident, Reginald Wilson, said he was ready for Christmas to arrive.
The gifts were a present to him from the employees of the police department and local Wal-Mart stores. Each of the children living with his grandmother, Judy Wilson, got a similar gift-filled bag. So, too, did children in two other families recognized by the department on Monday.
"I'm ready to open them now," said Reginald Wilson, 10.
"You can't -- you'll ruin the surprise," countered Assanni Wilson, who is also 10, and Reginald's adopted aunt.
For the fourth consecutive year, employees of the police department donated money and toys to give as Christmas presents to local, needy families. Police spokesperson, Lt. Tina Daniel, said each of the three families recognized this year received $350 checks, and a bag of toys for each child in the family.
In addition to Judy Wilson's family, the families of Forest Park resident, Lakeisa Malcolm, and Jonesboro resident, Rachel Chew, received money and toys from the department.
Daniel said police department employees, as well as local Wal-Mart stoes, donated money and toys throughout November, to give to the families. The families of Lakeisa Malcolm and Judy Wilson were selected by the pastors of their churches, according to Clayton Police Chief Jeff Turner.
Malcolm said she is a member of Living Faith Tabernacle Church in Forest Park, and Judy Wilson said she is a member of New Morning Light Baptist Church in Conley.
"The Clayton County Police Department cares about our citizens, and we try to help them out in any way we can," said Turner, as he addressed the families on Monday. "We can't save everyone, but we go to local churches and ask them to help us seek out, every year, some deserving, needy families that we can help out, and that's how we found you."
Code-enforcement Officer Jim Delbridge donned a big, red suit, and played Santa Claus for the children. Daniel called each child up, one-by-one, and each sat in his lap and told him whether they were naughty or nice this year. "Santa" then gave a large, black, plastic bag, filled with toys, to each child. Each bag had a red ribbon, emblazoned with the child's name, around the top.
Helping "Santa" out was a team of six "elves" -- members of the Clayton State University cheerleading squad, who led the family in a cheer as Santa came into the room. The cheerleaders also handed out lollipops to the children as they got off Santa's lap, and then led them to tables to get punch and cookies.
"We just enjoy getting to help someone else out, especially since it's the holidays, and people need the help," said cheerleader Ashley Edwards. "Plus, we love the kids, and we just know the importance of helping others."
Each family that received money and gifts on Monday had a story to tell. On Nov. 23, the house that belonged to Rachel Chew's family burned down, displacing her and her children, Kamari, 4, and Keyorah, 2, Turner said. Rachel Chew is the sister of Clayton County 911 dispatcher, Tabitha Shell.
"They lost everything they had," Turner said. "That had to be devastating for the family. But, since her sister is a 911 dispatcher for us, that naturally means her family is a part of our family."
Rachel Chew said she will use the money to replace personal-care items, such as towels and toothbrushes. The donation of the toys for the children will also help the family rebuild, she said. "This way, we won't have to spend beaucoups money on Christmas presents, and we can use it to replace everything we've lost," she said.
Malcolm said she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2000, and has to stay home to take care of her husband, who suffers from diabetes-related seizures, and her their three children -- Ebonie Malcolm, 12, Mya Malcolm, 11, and Elridge Malcolm, 10.
"I'm very thankful to the police department for doing this," Lakeisha Malcolm said. "We have no money, so for the last five years, my kids have not had a Christmas. This means a lot to us. It means my kids will have a Christmas again ... As long as we're together, it's going to be a good Christmas."
Judy Wilson said she moved to Forest Park from Florida two years ago, with her three adopted children (Assanni Wilson, Ashanti Wilson, 10, and Ashton Wilson, 4), and four grandchildren (Reginald Wilson, Jammie Littles, Jr., 8, Devontae Patterson, 5, and Emory Robertson, 3), and has had trouble finding a job because she cannot afford day care for all of the children.
What little money she does have, she said, goes to paying rent and utilities. "This helps out tremendously," she said. "We're going to have a wonderful Christmas."