OXFORD, Miss. – There will be many more presents under a lot of University of Mississippi Physical Plant employees’ trees on Christmas Day, thanks to the generosity of the campus community and its Black Faculty and Staff Organization.
Smiles abounded Friday morning (Dec. 19) in the Gertrude Castellow Ford Ballroom at the Inn at Ole Miss as BFSO members distributed more than 1,000 gifts through the group’s 17th annual Books and Bears program. The items were donated by UM faculty, staff, students and alumni over the past three weeks. The number of presents given reached a new record.
Reception at the event was enthusiastic.
“Without this event, lots of kids wouldn’t have very much on Christmas Day,” said Pauline Beard of Oxford, a general maintenance worker. “Every little bit helps and a little goes a long way.”
Alice Fryson of Oxford, who has attended every Books and Bears distribution since the program began, said she hoped to leave with a very special present for one of her nieces or nephews.
“I’m trying to get that bike,” Fryson said. “Maybe today is the day. If not, I definitely hope it will happen before I retire.”
Specificity is not a requirement for Randall Pino of Oxford.
“It doesn’t have to be any particular thing for my children,” the 10-year employee said. “Just seeing the excitement on their faces over whatever they receive is a blessing.”
The donations were noticed and greatly appreciated by BFSO officials.
“The thoughtfulness and outpouring of support from the UM family has been nothing short of amazing this year,” said Donald Cole, associate provost and assistant to the chancellor for multicultural affairs. “By helping others, we have truly captured the spirit of the holidays.”
The spirit of generosity generated by the program appears to be contagious.
“I don’t have any children myself, but one of my co-workers is adopting several kids and couldn’t be here today,” said James Tindle of Oxford. “He doesn’t even know I’m doing this for him. I just wanted to help him and his family out in any way that I could.”
Spreading the good will beyond the boundaries of the main campus, all employees videotaped a group holiday greeting, which will be shown to Chancellor Dan Jones and his wife, Lydia. Jones, who has been a cancer patient at the UM Medical Center in Jackson since late October, has actively supported and attended past Books and Bears distributions.
“Merry Christmas and happy new year!” the crowd shouted.
BSFO members expressed their pleasure over the assistance in obtaining toys and books for the children.
“Over the years, Books and Bears just keeps growing and growing,” said Jackie Certion, senior academic adviser in the UM College of Liberal Arts. “We outgrew the Union Ballroom, which is why it was moved here. Next year, we’ll probably pack out the Jackson Avenue Center. Then we’ll need the Ford Center and maybe the coliseum after that. Who knows?”
New teddy bears, children’s books and toys have been collected for children of custodial and grounds workers each year since 1997.