Ask almost anyone in the small town of Sunflower and they will tell you that Christmas comes in November.
And that would be an accurate statement because they would be referring to Louise Christmas, a local resident, who for the past 12 years, along with a group of dedicated volunteers, has been serving up Thanksgiving dinner to the senior citizens just before the holiday.
This year, as a special honor, Sunflower Mayor Desiree Norwood issued an official proclamation dubbing November 23 as Louise Christmas Day for the town.
Christmas and her long-standing roster of dedicated volunteers, which includes her daughters, served up more than just a delicious Thanksgiving buffet, because their commitment and generosity also dishes up a heaping helping of joy and fellowship as well.
Her daughter Carolyn O. Randle said, “Yes, we have to do it, but we enjoy it as well.”
Randle said her mother is very passionate about her project and commands that it be done to rigid specifications. Among her long-time volunteers is Sunflower native Annie Miller, who said she has known Christmas her whole life. “Literally, she kept me when I was little,” she said.
Miller has been volunteering with Christmas’ project for nearly eight years. “I really do it just to make Louise happy because she loves this. She's very passionate about helping others. She loves to help everybody,” Miller said.
Another helpful hand is Herdistean Stewart, who like Miller has been volunteering for the past seven or eight years. “I've been knowing her all of my life.” Stewart said she volunteers because she enjoys helping those that need help. You really meet a lot of church people here that’s usually who come, the elderly, and it’s nice to help those,” Stewart said.
Miller added that she has enjoyed getting to know the volunteers also. “It's cool to see everybody work together,” she said. And not only that, when it’s time to eat, the smiling and gracious volunteers fall in at the buffet line and the youth helpers carry the meals to the awaiting diners who are more like family.
Christmas is very well known and respected throughout the community. “She loves to talk (and) never meets a stranger,” said her daughter. Christmas, a 75-year-old mother of four, spent more than four decades as a bus driver for the Sunflower County school system but has been retired for about five or six years.
A lot of her volunteers were also students on her bus and even a few of those she now serves meals rode with her as well and she remembers them all by name.
The idea of the senior meal came to her one day as she was taking her daily walk with friend Christine Walker. “God put on my heart that some older people don't have nobody,” Christmas said. In addition, some people can't get out and it's a good thing to do for them, said Christmas.
She expressed that many elderly people are alone in the world and need someone to show that they care. In addition to her annual dinner for the elderly and disabled, she also goes to the nursing home every day to visit the patients.
Christmas said she has always wanted to do something in the community to help the elderly and those that were less fortunate and now after a dozen years of serving up good food and fellowship, Christmas has no plans of stopping anytime soon.
Randle said, “She continues because she loves doing it and she will do it as long as she is able to. When it gets to be October she will start letting us know it's almost that time and what we will need to do.” Randle praised her mother as being a great inspiration. “She's a very giving and loving person,” she said.
In addition to her feeding project for the elderly, Christmas and Walker also formed a parent-teacher organization for East Sunflower Elementary School the year before the dinner began and one of their first projects was air conditioners for the school cafeteria.
Christmas said it was before the school had air-conditioned classrooms. “We couldn't get an air conditioner to go in every room, so we decided to put them in the cafeteria,” she said. A grand mother to 10 and great grandmother of six, Christmas is also still an active part of that organization.
She was not born in Sunflower, but grew up partly in Holmes County and moved to Sunflower at an early age according to her daughter. Nonetheless, Christmas has made a lasting impact.
In summing up the essence of Christmas, Randle said, “She loves the Lord. She tells us to pray and believe. She says God holds you responsible for how you treat people and holds them responsible for how they treat you, so do your part that way God got you.”
Randle concluded, “She was very strict and meant what she said. So that's why we do what we're told. She's a good ol’ gal and I love having her around.”