Photo by Tracey Wolfe
Grainger Today Editor
ORANGE, TEXAS – Children in two Texas communities will benefit from the generosity of folks in East Tennessee this Christmas.
The Toys for Texas toy drive concluded Friday, Dec. 15, as collection boxes were retrieved from locations in and around Grainger County. The toys collected during the drive were then sorted by age and gender.
Monday afternoon, Dec. 18, Dale and Shirley Moles left Mooresburg in a tractor trailer bedecked with Christmas bows and filled with Christmas cheer. After blowing a heater hose in the Ooltewah area and having to make repairs to the truck, the couple traveled to Meridian, Mississippi, where they spent the night. They arrived in Port Arthur, Texas the next morning.
Alisa Howerton, the toy drive’s organizer, and her husband, Pastor Scott Howerton, were able to travel to Texas to assist with the delivery of toys when American Airlines provided two gratis round-trip tickets for the couple.
Alisa and Scott met up with Dale and Shirley on their way in to First Baptist Church Orange, Texas to unload toys for that location’s toy giveaway.
The toy drive began as a result of a fall break trip Alisa and Scott took to Texas, to help in recovery efforts following Hurricane Harvey. After hearing children in the area might not have anything for Christmas, Alisa said she wanted to conduct a toy drive for those children.
The idea had all but fallen by the wayside as she exhausted all of her options for having toys transported to Texas, but when Dale Moles learned of the need for someone to haul the toys, he volunteered for the task.
Moles had traveled to the Port Arthur area of Texas during the hurricane and worked to rescue those trapped in flooded areas. He knew firsthand what the people in the area were facing following the flooding.
Moles told Scott he would be happy to take the toys, under one condition. He said he had a 48’ trailer, and he wanted to take a full load of toys, with half of the load going to children in Orange and the other half to children in the Port Arthur area. That challenge was accepted, and the toy drive began in Grainger County and surrounding areas Wednesday, November 15.
During the weeks that followed, volunteers distributed boxes for toy collection to area businesses and held manned toy drive events at both Walmart Super Center locations in Morristown.
Charlie Hemphill, general manager of Clayton Bean Station (Norris), challenged employees there to each donate at least one toy. He agreed to color his hair green and wear it for one workday if the goal was reached. Employees reached the goal, and Hemphill made good on his promise, coloring his hair and sporting the new look for an entire workday.
When the drive concluded one month after it began, the goal of a trailer full of toys had been reached.
Toys were distributed to about 200 children in three locations in Orange, Texas, Wednesday, December 20 and 407 children received toys in Port Arthur, Texas, Friday, Dec. 22.
At First Baptist Church of Orange, parents were able to choose whether to pick toys without their children present or to allow their children to pick their own toys. Those picking up toys at Orange Christian Services submitted wish lists, and toys were packed for families by volunteers. Distribution at Little Cypress Baptist Church was held for students of Little Cypress Elementary School. Everyone who received toys had to display a FEMA card in order to attend the giveaway.
Alisa said money provided by the Grainger Baptist Association was used to purchase some grocery store gift cards.
Alisa and Scott said those who received toys during the distributions were very grateful for what they received.
Scott said, “What would break your heart, I mean, families getting just a bag full for the kids. That bag full might – you don’t know what your community’s done. It wasn’t going to happen. I mean they’d just fall on your shoulders and say bless you, and just cry and cry.”
“Oh my gosh, just fall in the floor and cry,” Alisa added.
When a boy whose family was given a gift card asked his mom if they could please buy some ribs, Scott overheard. The family’s home was completely ruined during the hurricane and had to be demolished. Alisa said they are currently living in a camper and haven’t been able to begin rebuilding because they had no flood insurance. Alisa and Scott took the boy and his mom out for dinner at Chili’s so the boy could have ribs.
One couple who chose to pick toys to wrap and give to their children as Santa gifts asked who had brought the toys. She went over to Alisa and gave her a hug, thanking her.
She told Alisa her kids had one gift apiece under the tree for Christmas, as that was it. The woman and her husband spoke with Alisa and Scott, and told them about their living situation since the hurricane. Alisa said the family is living in the upstairs portion of their home as they attempt to repair damage to the downstairs area. During the flood, the level of water in the home had reached about the fourth or fifth step on the staircase, she said. Even the ceilings on the first level of the home had to be replaced, due to them sagging following the flood.
The family of four is living in one room, with a closet and a bathroom. With no flood insurance to cover the damages to their home, Alisa said the mother and father get up each day at 4:50 a.m., work all day and return home to try to complete repairs to their home.
Due to the family’s need, she and Scott decided to give them a Home Depot gift card purchased with Grainger Baptist Association funds that had been collected to help with victims of flooding in Texas.
When they went to the home to deliver the gift card, they were able to view the damage to the home, and met the couple’s daughter and son. The couple’s young daughter, named Kimberly, insisted Alisa go with her to see her Elf on the Shelf, and blew kisses to her as they backed out of the driveway of the home.
“That was the last stop before we headed back to Houston, and it couldn’t have went better. Because I’d spent the best part of two days crying, and I cried still then when she was blowing kisses at me, but that smile, you know, that I wanted to see, I seen it,” Alisa said.
She said they have story after story of those affected by the flooding from the hurricane. “I just have such a burden for those people. I don’t know if it will ever go away,” she said.
Alisa and Scott returned to Bean Station Thursday evening, Dec. 21. Dale and Shirley also returned Thursday evening, completing their 1,858 mile trip to ensure children who lost everything during the hurricane’s floods received toys for Christmas.