Thursday, February 2, 2012
Luther selected Woman of Year
By SUE WATSON
Brenda Luther, who with her husband Ronnie organized the Clydesdale Christmas Store 18 years ago to provide toys and clothes for needy children, received a high honor January 21.
She was selected 2011 Woman of the Year by the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi.
Luther said she would not be receiving this award had it not been for the support of her friends and their commitment to the Clydesdale Christmas Store. Luther shared the awards ceremony with four others.
The top honoree was Dr. Mary Ellen Bouldin, of Clarksdale, who dedicated her life to the health of her community, region, and to her family. The Man of the Year award went to Dr. Michael Minor of DeSoto County; Quapaw Canoe Company of Clarksdale won Business of the Year; and Teach for America in the Delta was named Non-profit of the Year.
Teach for America also was presented a check for $212,000 to advance the cause of education in the eight-county area served by the foundation. Quapaw Canoe Company received a check for $5,000.
The Luthers, supported by a cadre of volunteers, have helped raise more than $1 million for gifts to children and to communities in need. The first Clydesdale Christmas Store was organized in 1993 and was held at a store front on the square owned at the time by Bill Mobley and his wife Diana.
The third year of the store, Christmas was held at the Armory in Holly Springs where there is plenty of space to set out toys, a snack bar, play areas and seating for families.
The Luthers said there was no heat or restroom facilities in the Mobley building at the time and children and their parents had to stand out in the cold and wait for their turn to visit with Santa inside.
John Paul Carpenter suggested the Clydesdale Store ask the National Guard to set up Christmas in their facility on East Salem Avenue in Holly Springs. Since then the Guard has both served as the setup spot for the store and has also been served by the store.
When Mississippi soldiers were ordered to deploy to Afghanistan and Iraq in 2005 for an 18-month tour of duty, the Clydesdale Store presented their families with Christmas in 2006. And when Hurricane Katriana devastated the Mississippi and Louisiana Gulf Coast in 2005, the Clydesdale Store went to Waveland to provide a hot meal, toys and clothing and a check to families.
Last year, the Clydesdale Store travelled to Smithville, a community leveled by twisters early in the year. The National Guard Armory in Amory provided the space for the store as the town of Smithville had no facilities in which to hold the event. Sixty families received a Christmas card with a check for $750 to help rebuild their homes. Two hundred children received gifts from Santa in Smithville. And dinner was provided for all. Clydesdale volunteers from Holly Springs did the cooking.
Because of the close association with the National Guard, the Clydesdale Store provides a meal, and an evening of entertainment and gifts to the Holly Springs and Hernando Guard families each year in December. The soldiers say the store has provided gifts and meals for their children when they were away and after they returned from one or more tours of duty in the Middle East.
The event has gone through many transitions over the years. One year the Clydesdale elves wrapped every Christmas present and topped it with a bow. As the numbers served continued to grow, the store chose to use drawstring plastic bags to put Santa’s smaller gifts into. Many children request and receive new bicycles which are waiting on the floor for them.
Ronnie Luther said the people of Smithville could be best described as people of character. Community members did not think they were needy enough and were shy about accepting gifts even though most had lost everything, he said.
The number of children served has varied from year to year depending on funds raised. The largest number served was about 1,000 children in 1998, the Luthers said.
The Clydesdale Christmas Store lives by the motto – “The good you do for others is the good you do for yourself.”
The Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi is a non-profit organization founded in 2002 to serve the communities of Coahoma, DeSoto, Marshall, Panola, Quitman, Tallahatchie, Tate and Tunica counties. The foundation is governed by 23 board members. The CFNM has 112 donor-established funds and has distributed $5.2 million in support of 200 charitable organizations and activities and charitable programs.
Some contributions in 2011 benefited:
• 150 day care centers
• 31 community, church and school gardens
• 48 churches with health ministries
• dozens of former prisoners needing shelter, food, rehabilitation and job training
• 100 children with school supplies
• 100 families with books
• 650 families with mentoring and aid
• 4,000 high school students with financial literacy
• 32,000 teaching videos for teachers and families
• free online reading education
• 64 Teach for America - Delta members
To learn more about the CFNM and ways to energize local or regional projects, visit www.cfnm.org.
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