An apple. Maybe an orange. Sometimes a small, cheap toy.
Thats 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 doesnt 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 doesnt have enough for the 2,000 children he expects hell need to serve.
You know that economic recovery they keep telling us about? Mills isnt seeing it.
Im seeing the very opposite of that, he said somberly. I saw the report from November of last year to November of this year, and weve had a 57 percent increase in residents living at the Rescue Mission. And Ive 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. Theyre learning marketing skills while theyre 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 dont have a homeless party. We look at it as our community party. We have so many volunteers from the community. They dont have money to give but they still want to show their appreciation for the mission.
We tell them, Even if youre not really destitute, come and celebrate Christmas with us, because Christmas is not Christmas if you do it by yourself, he said.
If youre 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.
Were 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. Its even worse nowadays when you have so much TV exposure and theyre in school with kids who have the latest gadgets and they dont have anything.
I can feel the pain, Mills said.
Of course he can. Thats 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 theyre meant for, Mills said to the mission at 1201 E. Main St. in Durham.
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