Still time to ‘Keep Hope Alive’

Staff Writer

The community can still help make a brighter Christmas for dozens of children by making donations of gift cards or cash to the annual “Keep Hope Alive" outreach program.

From 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9 at St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in West Point, as many as 100 children will celebrate the season with Santa, friendship and those gift cards.

St. Paul Missionary Baptist is located at 805 Fifth St. South, just south of Center Street in West Point. Anyone wishing to volunteer or make a donation can call Belinda Rice at 662-295-1457, Amy Berry at 662-494-3124 or Pennie Quinn at 662-605-0523.

Gift cards or donations also can be dropped off at the Clay County Sheriff's Department.

Keep Hope Alive is a unique program started 23 years ago by someone who understood the need better than most -- Willie "Gator" Johnson, a convicted cocaine dealer who was locked up in the Clay County Jail.

Johnson got help from the sheriff and people on the outside for the first Keep Hope Alive effort in 1994. The idea was to make sure no child, not just children of inmates, went without something at Christmas.

In many ways, the gift went beyond toys. Instead, the greater gift to children was community support and the message that even when bad things happen to those around you, the community was there with love and hope.

"The name says it all. It can make a difference," says Ramirez Williams, Clay County Sheriff's chief deputy and a long-time volunteer and now board member with Keep Hope Alive.

The event not only will pay tribute to 'Gator' Johnson but also to Pat Quinn, who for many years almost single-handedly spear-headed the project. She died late last year.