Books and Bears Brightens Holiday Season at UM

Annual charity event provides toys for Physical Plant employees and their families

Demetria Hereford, Assistant Director of the McNair Program, helps set out toys to be given away to university employees at the annual Books and Bears distribution.

OXFORD, Miss. – The Christmas holiday season got a whole lot brighter for the children and families of University of Mississippi Physical Plant employees as they received gifts Thursday morning (Dec. 19) at the Ole Miss Union Ballroom.

Smiles abounded as members of the Black Faculty and Staff Organization distributed more than 400 gifts through the annual Bears and Books program. The items were donated by UM faculty, staff and students, and Oxford merchants over the past three weeks. Reception was enthusiastic.

“It’s really a blessing that the university does this for us each year,” said Sammy McEwen of Oxford, an employee in general maintenance who has been coming to the program since its inception. “Books and Bears means the university is willing to reach out and show how much they care about their employees.”

The donations were noticed and very much appreciated by BFSO officials.

“We’re not doing this so much to give gifts as to show our appreciation to them for what they do all year long,” said Donald Cole, associate provost and assistant to the chancellor for multicultural affairs. “Every year, I’ve wondered if we were going to be able to pull this off, and every year people give more than the previous year and we exceed our goal. I’m going to have faith in what we’re doing from now on.”

As the program’s title suggests, books and bears were available in abundance, but there were also plenty of dolls, bicycles, board games, action figures, footballs and basketballs for the taking. A few electronics and even a little cash were found among the goodies, too.

The Lafayette County Literacy Council gave employees the opportunity to participate in Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. The program provides children with a free book by mail each month until they reach age 5.

“We had 25 people fill out and turn in registration forms for their children today,” said Marie Barnard, a spokesperson for the program. “These memberships are a gift that keeps on giving while ensuring children learn to read and enjoy it.”

As gifts were distributed throughout the morning, several recipients expressed their pleasure over the assistance in obtaining toys and books for their children.

“This is very helpful in that it comes at a time of year many when many parents are struggling to provide toys for their young ones,” said Lynn Gilliam of Oxford, a heating and air conditioning employee. “This helps guarantee there will be a lot of happy children come Christmas morning.”

“I want to get a few things for my 6-month-old son,” said Clay McCoy of Oxford, a maintenance employee. “We didn’t buy as much for him as for our 3-year-old daughter.”

Lydia Jones, wife of UM Chancellor Dan Jones, attended the event and was delighted by the overwhelming support from the community.

“Books and Bears is a way for everybody at Ole Miss to give back to all those who work so tirelessly behind the scenes all year,” Jones said. “I think it’s an absolutely wonderful program.”

This is the 16th year new that the university community has collected teddy bears, children’s books and toys for children of custodial and grounds workers.