VOL. 115 | NO. 209 | Friday, December 7, 2001
By JENNIFER MURLEY
Angels program needs a little Christmas magic
By JENNIFER MURLEY
The Daily News
Ten years ago, Jo Ann Brown-Saxton looked forward to the
holidays. She wasnt rich, but between the income she earned as a day care
teacher and her husbands salary, their two small children always found gifts
under the Christmas tree.
Who knew it wouldnt last?
In 1993, her husband was diagnosed with cancer, leaving him
unable to work. A year later, she was involved in an elevator accident in which
she was literally crushed, leaving her in perpetual pain, and chronically
In two short years, the family went from being a dual income
household to being completely dependent on government disability benefits.
Christmas would never be the same again.
Then, she met Janice Dana Snedeker.
Two years ago, she needed Christmas gifts for her children,
now ages 16 and 13, and checked into some of the local holiday gift programs
for the needy.
But, due to program stipulations, both of her children
didnt qualify for gifts, which is when she first heard about Snedekers
Angels of Love program dedicated to providing holiday gifts for children of
the working poor.
It has changed Christmas. It has changed our lives, said
Brown-Saxton, 44. Its not just about toys for me, it gives me something to
She now regularly works alongside Snedeker each holiday
season, making phone calls to potential donors and packaging toys, to ensure
that Mid-South families in need do not go without during Christmas.
Brown-Saxton is just one of the many lives Angels of Love
has touched since its humble beginnings five years ago when Snedeker said about
37 families participated in the program. Last year, her program served more
than 500 families, matching more than 1,500 children with toys, books and
I have got so many people and Ive talked to each one of
these people, Snedeker said. We dont want anyone to do without.
Unlike similar programs that impose age restrictions on
participating children or income guidelines on the parents, Snedeker said
Angels of Love is simply open to families in need, regardless of their
What she does require is proof of the parents
identification, copies of their childrens birth certificates and proof of
income. In exchange, parents receive more than $50 in gifts for each child,
which includes five toys, stocking stuffers, books and stuffed animals.
Our whole thing is to keep families together, make them
unified, and let them know that there is somebody out there that cares, she
said. I might never see them again, but theyll remember what happened and
hopefully, when they find someone who is in trouble, theyll pass a little bit
of help along.
And, at 59, Snedeker, a self-proclaimed everyday grandma,
speaks about hard times from experience. As a young mother 40 years ago, she
struggled to raise two children on her own, working odd jobs just to put food
on the table.
Ive been there, its just as clear as yesterday, she
said. I can remember when I had to ask people for help for my kids and its
just an awful feeling.
Even today, she still struggles living on a meager monthly
$540 social security check in a Frayser trailer park.
The difference is, now instead of providing for two kids on
her own during the holidays, today she provides for 1,500 with thanks to the
donations of many. Shes not bashful about asking for help.
Our motto is well go where no folks have gone before, and
well beg where no folks have begged before, she said, emphasizing the current
need for both cash and toy donations as the holidays fast approach.
Barbie, Pokemon, Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh are always
popular donations, she said, but added now kids also like the more high-tech
toys such as Gameboys.
Every little toy, every little bike, every little thing we
get its going to help somebody, she said, adding that shell go anywhere to
pick up donations.
Her daughter Debi Mulligan, 39, along with Snedekers son
and fiance has been helping with Angels of Love for the past four years.
I couldnt be more proud of her, Mulligan said. She
doesnt give in. This is her goal and each year as it grows she just spends
that much more time on the phone. Shell just tell them up front, Im not a
big fancy person Im a grandma but this is what I do.
After nearly three months of collecting toys and stocking
stuffers, Snedeker will lease a storefront space Dec. 22-23 to distribute the
gifts to the qualified families. Families will be assigned numbers that match
their gift bags, along with designated times to pick up the toys.
Surrounded by her friends and family, Snedeker said she
plans to stay up late and get up early until Christmas Day to ensure every
family in need has something for the holidays.
And right beside her, will be the families served by
Snedekers Angels of Love.
I dont know what her educational background is and all
that, but I do know that shes just plain people like me, said Brown-Saxton,
referring to her new friend Snedeker. Everything has gotten so corporate
its about numbers, and minutes and time and the human being part of it is
gone. Thats what Ms. Snedeker does, she puts the human being part back in.
Anyone interested in making a donation of cash or toys, or
for more information can call Snedeker, 353-8759.