Saunders: Help ensure each child gets a toy this Christmas

bsaunders@newsobserver.comDecember 19, 2012 


Ernie Mills

TAKAAKI IWABU — 2009 News & Observer file photo

An apple. Maybe an orange. Sometimes a small, cheap toy.

That’s what the Mills kids of Frog Level down in Pitt County often received as Christmas presents. “My daddy was a sharecropper, a moonshiner and a bootlegger,” Ernie Mills recalled. “He died at 40 of cirrhosis of the liver. Christmas around our house was very sparse.”

Remarkably, Mills, director of the Durham Rescue Mission, remembers those days fondly. “There was very little. We loved it, though,” he laughed softly. “Everybody else was poor, too.”

That doesn’t mean he wants other children to have the same types of memories he has. So for the 38th straight year, Mills is trying to ensure that poor children find more under their Christmas tree than he did. Less than a week before Christmas, though, he doesn’t have enough for the 2,000 children he expects he’ll need to serve.

You know that economic recovery they keep telling us about? Mills isn’t seeing it.

“I’m seeing the very opposite of that,” he said somberly. “I saw the report from November of last year to November of this year, and we’ve had a 57 percent increase in residents living at the Rescue Mission. And I’ve seen no drop-off in it.”

New thrift shop

Lest you think the mission is just in the business of providing handouts, Mills told me that it is opening later this month a new thrift shop that will employ 34 people.

“It seems that the economy is not creating new jobs, so I had to look at a business plan where the mission itself could take in clothing and furniture and all that type of stuff,” he said. “We need people to sort it, hang it and put it up and retail it. … They’re learning marketing skills while they’re doing that.”

On Monday at noon, he said, the mission will sponsor a Christmas dinner and give away the toys you give. “On the 24th, we don’t have a ‘homeless’ party. We look at it as our community party. … We have so many volunteers from the community. They don’t have money to give” but they still want to show their appreciation for the mission.

“We tell them, ‘Even if you’re not really destitute, come and celebrate Christmas with us,’ because Christmas is not Christmas if you do it by yourself,” he said.

If you’re by yourself, and even if you have no gift to bring – pa rum pum pum pum – you should go to the mission at 1201 E. Main St. in Durham, which is where the dinner and toy giveaway will take place.

“We’re especially short on (toys) for the zero to 6-years-old age group,” he said.

‘I know the pain’

Despite the fondness with which he remembers his sparsely gifted Christmases, Mills said he also remembers “looking around at people who had so much more. I know the pain that can be in the heart of a child. It’s even worse nowadays when you have so much TV exposure and … they’re in school with kids who have the latest gadgets and they don’t have anything.

“I can feel the pain,” Mills said.

Of course he can. That’s why, for nearly four decades, the dude has been trying to make sure that no child awakes on Christmas morning and gets just an apple. Or an orange. Or a cheap toy.

He needs our help, though. Please, if you can, take a new, unwrapped toy – “So the sorters can see what age group and gender” they’re meant for, Mills said – to the mission at 1201 E. Main St. in Durham. or 919-836-2811

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