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Volunteers deliver 'pure joy' to Norcross hotel residents

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Mannika Hitch is handed a shoe box of gifts, along with toys, toiletries cleaning supplies and food for her family, including her daughter Miyah, 1, on Monday at an extended stay hotel in Norcross. A group of about 40 volunteers set out from GAC's Campus Church to deliver the items to families.

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Mannika Hitch is handed a shoe box of gifts, along with toys, toiletries cleaning supplies and food for her family, including her daughter Miyah, 1, on Monday at an extended stay hotel in Norcross. A group of about 40 volunteers set out from GAC's Campus Church to deliver the items to families.

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Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Steve Doris, left, and Allison Collins, volunteers at Campus Church in Norcross, load the back of a pickup truck with items that were delivered to nearby extended stay hotels on Christmas Eve.

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Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Volunteers at Campus Church say a prayer prior to departing to hand out gifts to families at area hotels on Christmas Eve.

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Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Rehanna Reid, 6, is all smiles with her mother, Abigail Carter, right, as she hauls her new toys back to her hotel room on Monday in Norcross. Volunteers with Campus Church dropped off everything from toys to clothes and toiletries to families living in area hotels.

NORCROSS -- It all began as a service project at Greater Atlanta Christian School in the summer. On Monday, a group of about 40 volunteers set out from GAC's Campus Church to deliver cheer in the form of toys, cleaning supplies and food to nearby residents living in hotels.

When Davida Baker's son was in eighth grade 10 years ago, he started a project for his Bible class to feed people living in nearby hotels. Baker, Campus Church children's minister Missy Doris and a number of other volunteers have expanded the effort to the Christmas holiday season.

"The kids (at Campus Church) collect items all through December," Doris said, "and we fill stockings for boys and girls. Several churches come in calling us and saying, 'We want to be involved. We want to help, too. How can we help?'"

With the help of nearby churches -- including Perimeter, North Point and Rising Church -- and other volunteers in the community, Christmas was delivered to families living in nearby hotels.

Domonique Davis found out about the deliveries from a neighbor and was delighted to receive the gifts.

"It's amazing," she said. "People are going through some hard times."

Even more excited was her young son, Joseph Lineberger, who received a couple of small cars and a big fire truck. He wore a wide smile and showed no signs of letting go of his new toys.

Morgan Johnson and her kids, Andrew, Jerry and Dylen, were also glad to see the volunteers handing out presents.

"These people are a really big help," Johnson said. "It's a big surprise."

Dylen, 2, was wearing a Lightning McQueen hat from "Cars" and picked out a set of die-cast cars, something his mom said he loves.

Baker and her son realized the need at local hotels through their work at Norcross Cooperative Ministries. One day, Baker delivered food to a woman and apologized for not having much. The woman was appreciative but had tears in her face. Baker asked why.

"It's all right. I just have three teenage boys and they never quit eating," the woman told her.

Looking at paperwork to find out where the woman lived to bring her more food later, she discovered that she lived in a hotel. Baker later discovered more people -- some entire families -- living in nearby hotels.

Now, the church has taken over the program and people go five days a week during the summer to give families breakfast, lunch and a light snack.

Baker said school board member Louise Radloff told her that school counselors were panicked at the end of the school year because school meals wouldn't be available to these kids. Counselors said some of the kids would come to them crying at the end of school because they were worried about a lack of food in the summer.

So that's where the volunteers have stepped in. And now that schools are out for a couple of weeks for winter break, the need arises again.

"It's Christmas," Baker said. "How miserable can you be if you're living in a room? There's no way to slam a door and get away from each other," she said with a chuckle. "We do what we can."

The volunteers included people of all ages, including Doris' nephew Jacob Fragle, 10, and niece Grace Fragle, 12.

"It just makes me feel good to help them have a big Christmas like me and my sister," Jacob said.

People living in hotels have many needs, and the volunteers try to cover a lot of bases. Each person was given a microwavable mug with hot chocolate, and the bags of cleaning supplies included things such as laundry detergent, dish soap and toilet paper.

"Toiletries are items the adults really want," Baker said. "(They're) very expensive. By the time you pay for the laundry detergent and the washer and dryer, you've got a lot of money sunk into that."

So why do Baker and her dedicated fellow volunteers spend part of their Christmas Eve doing this for others?

"It's just pure joy," she said. "The kids make it all worthwhile. It doesn't matter if it's raining. It doesn't matter if it's freezing cold. The kids are so delighted."