Emory Report
December 12, 2005
Volume 58, Number 14


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December 12 , 2005
Holiday generosity helps Mexican towns

BY eric rangus

While it may not look like it, there is organization among the chaos in Cindy Cross’ Yerkes National Primate Research Center office. On one side is a pile of 77 Christmas stockings—actually beige drawstring bags—overflowing with stuffed animals, plastic jewelry, toy cars, yo-yos, Play-Doh, socks, books and many more gifts.

In front of her desk are huge boxes of baby items, school and senior center supplies and cookie tins—all stacked among their like

“I can barely get to the printer,” said Cross, program coordinator for scientific programs at Yerkes, noting that a path about six inches wide is her only throughway from the door to her desk that doesn’t require climbing over someone’s gifts.

For the last five years, Cross has coordinated Yerkes’ holiday-giving efforts. This year the gifts and stockings are destined for three poor communities in Mexico and the children and families who live there.

“The inspiration and organization is 99 percent Cindy’s, but the center is totally behind it,” said Tom Gordon, associate director for scientific programs at Yerkes. “We embrace the idea of reaching out to do something like this, and I think everyone has the same feeling.”

Gordon sure does. His two daughters, ages 7 and 8, are in charge of stuffing their gift stocking. They are given a budget and responsibility (“with guidance,” Gordon said) to select gifts for a child their age.

“As a parent it’s great, because one of the things you want to teach your kids to share and understand what that means, so the holidays aren’t all about ‘my list to Santa,’” Gordon said.

The stockings contain age- and gender-appropriate gifts for children ranging in age from infancy to 16, and they are destined for the central Mexican communities of Estancia, Las Colinas and Manivillas—where homes often are little more than shacks.

Cross’ efforts at Yerkes are part of the wider outreach work of her church, Mount Carmel Christian Church in Stone Mountain. For three years, Cross and her co-workers filled shoeboxes with toys and other gifts through the Kelly Street Mission, a nonprofit organization based in Atlanta’s Grant Park and Summerhill neighborhoods.

This year, Yerkes is collecting exclusively for Mexico through SOAR Ministries and the Bethshean Mexico Mission—both of which have relationships with Mt. Carmel. Instead of limiting contributions to children’s toys (as was the focus of Kelly Street) Yerkes staff and faculty were invited to donate baby items, school supplies and items for a senior citizens center.

Cross sent out the first e-mails asking for stocking stuffers around Thanksgiving, with a deadline date of Monday, Dec. 5. That morning, Cross had some 40 stockings piled in her office. Then she went to lunch; by the time she got back, nearly all of the 77 were there, spilling out into the hallway.

Cross doesn’t have an accurate count of how many Yerkes employees donated items, but she estimated more than 200. Individual labs set up donation boxes, and everyone contributed at least one item. She sent boxes to the Yerkes Field Station in Lawrenceville. These boxes came back overflowing with gifts.

Yerkes’ 77 stockings will eventually join others collected by Mt. Carmel members—the final number will be around 600—for the journey to Mexico. Three women from the church will drive pickup trucks filled with the Christmas gifts 30 hours to the central Mexico towns. Another three women from Jonesboro Christian Church will accompany them in trucks of their own.

While her church has had ties to Bethshean for sometime, Cross has never visited the villages she has helped. That will change next summer when she travels to Mexico for two weeks to assist with a vacation Bible school and work to improve and, in some cases, build homes for the villages’ families.

Until then, the only way Cross and her Yerkes co-workers can see the happy faces that result from their giving is through photographs. Last year Cross had to rely on e-mailed photos, but this year photos from the gift-giving will be uploaded to a website so she and all of Yerkes can share in the joy to which they have contributed.

Emory’s holiday giving efforts are not limited to Yerkes (see story), and it is not necessary to create any kind of formal giving effort at work. Individual members of the Emory community can accomplish a lot on their own.

“There are so many people less fortunate than us,” she said. “Go to any mall and find an angel tree. There is Toys for Tots. There are tons of places to go.

“Or you can call me. I’ll sign you up.”