‘Please, Santa, let this happen’

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 14, 2013

Members of JR’s staff pose with this year’s winners.

Members of JR’s staff pose with this year’s winners.

“I don’t know who I’m writing this to, but if it’s Santa, please Santa, let this happen.”

Eight-year-old Jade Weldon read the words she had written weeks earlier aloud to a tear-filled audience Friday at J.R.’s Lawnmower Shop in Opp.

“My momma don’t work because she has seizures all the time,” she continued. “She gets upset because she can’t buy me Christmas and my sister.”

This year, Jade’s mom will have more help than usual thanks to the letter, which came in first place in J.R.’s annual Christmas giving campaign.

J.R.’s owner Joe Richburg spoke over the sound of muffled sobs, while choking back his own tears Friday, as he read the words of the second place winner, sixth-grader Lauren Hamrick.

“I would like the money to help my mom on the electric bill,” she wrote. “I would help, so we have heat in our home. I would also send my pet to the vet, because he has fleas. I would give money to our church and to the hospital to help the people with cancer.”

The tears, Richburg said when he finished the letter, were tears of joy.

“Helping these children is the highlight of our year,” he told an audience gathered for the announcement of the three “winning” letters.

Richburg said Jeremiah Williamson, an Opp fourth-grader who couldn’t be in attendance Friday, came in third with his letter. Richburg said, while three letters are highlighted, all of the children who wrote in to the contest will receive gifts.

Each year since 2010, J.R.’s has asked for letters from the community’s children, outlining what they would like for Christmas, and what began as an effort to give to one family in need, has blossomed into a program that, this year, is giving to more than 70 children.

“This is our fourth year doing this,” Richburg told those in attendance. “God said it wasn’t time to quit giving, and we’re going to help all of the 70 kids who wrote letters.”

Elaine Wilks, an employee at J.R.’s, said the program is only as big as it is because of the generosity of the Opp community.

“We started this in 2010,” she said. “We were going to give $500 to the family of the child whose letter we chose. But pretty soon, someone called in and wanted to give $250 for a second place. Then, we got a call that a business wanted to give $150 for third place. When we were done, we had enough left to take care of the letters that were left over.”

This year, the remaining 67 families will receive a donation of clothing, toys and other merchandise, Richburg said.

“It’s just good to show that we love these kids,” he said. “It’s easy to fall on hard times. This is meant to help pull people up. Not to push anyone down. That’s the purpose of this. To say, ‘We love you because God loves you.’”

Richburg said the program would not be able to provide for such a large number of families each year without the help they receive from both local businesses and individuals.

A prime example of the generous nature of Opp citizens occurred just after Friday morning’s ceremony, Richburg said.

“Someone called in and wanted to ‘pay for’ some of (Lauren’s mother’s) time. They gave $500 so she can take some time off work to be with her kids.”

The money, Richburg said, was an answered prayer for Hamrick, who wrote, “If I win, my mom will not have to work doubles and will stop crying every night. The worse feeling is watching your mom cry.”

Richburg said his hope is that his company’s program allows people like Hamrick’s mom the opportunity to cry some tears of joy of her own this year.