By TOMIE PARKS
“Thank you and Merry Christmas!”
Those are four simple words, but they have a world of meaning to Stephanie Richardson, a 13-year-old student from Taylor Middle School.
“It’s a good thing to see people donate,” Stephanie said as she rang a Salvation Army holiday bell. “It’s nice to watch them put money in for kids.”
She knows exactly what kind of good that money can provide.
“There was one year when we, my two brothers and sister, didn’t have nothing,” Stephanie said. “But the Salvation Army made sure we had stuff for Christmas. And it was wonderful.”
That’s why she volunteered to brave the cold wind and man a Salvation Army post last Thursday night outside of the Walmart in Taylor.
“I want to try and give back,” Stephanie said.
Her mother, Melinda, can remember that bleak year when her family’s holiday was overrun with debt and uncertainty.
“We were living in Bridgeport at the time, and my husband and I were both out of work,” Melinda said. “We couldn’t give our kids a Christmas, but the Salvation Army could and did. We’re really grateful, and now I’m proud to see my daughter out there ringing that bell.”
Stephanie was not the only youngster at Walmart volunteering for the Salvation Army that night. Almost a dozen of her peers from Taylor Middle School were also out, asking for donations.
Most were members of the student council, trying to demonstrate leadership and community involvement. A few, though, had personal reasons, similar to those of Stephanie’s.
Nellie Diaz, 13, for instance, was volunteering after receiving inspiration from her uncle.
“My uncle, he serves the Army,” Diaz said. “And he’s always telling me stories about how people don’t get enough food, so I thought it would be nice to give. I just want to help somebody, like the people he talks about.”
The middle school’s bell-ringing work is part of a December partnership between the Taylor school district and the Salvation Army.
“Students have been ringing bells for us at Walmart every Thursday evening since Dec. 2,” said Lindy Peterson, a Salvation Army board member and TMS counselor.
Teenagers from Taylor High School launched the fundraising effort Dec. 2, which will continue Thursday with area members of the National Junior Honor Society taking command of the bells.
Full of holiday music to share, the TMS band is also slated to be there to perform.
“We’ve had a large group of kids participate this year,” Peterson said. “Everyone’s shown a lot of enthusiasm.”
The Salvation Army’s bell-ringing goal is to raise as much money as it can.
“The need in this community is great,” Peterson said. “So keep donating. Everything collected in Taylor stays in Taylor and we need everything we can get.”
The perk of donating on a Thursday, she added, is the chance to watch the area’s youth in action.
“They’re out here being enthused, and it seems like everyone who sees them has their day brightened a bit,” Peterson said. “Watching them have fun like that, that’s what brings the Christmas spirit for me.”