SALTILLO • Cami Jo Cares is working harder than ever to ensure children have a good Christmas this year.
Cami Jo Cares works year round to collect lightly used toys and clothes for children of all ages. This year, the organization saw an increase in requests for Christmas and back-to-school donations. Despite a momentary pause in donations, vice president Jamie Fullerton said the organization is getting back into a routine.
“This year, even though it’s been really hard, it’s been successful for Cami Jo Cares in helping many, many kids,” Jamie Fullerton said.
Like many nonprofits throughout the area, Cami Jo Cares saw challenges with COVID-19.
For almost three months, the organization was scared to take donations, said president Patrick Fullerton. When the organization began taking donations again, the amount ebbed in comparison to prior years because people didn’t know where to take donations.
“There was a big deficit of toys this year,” Jamie Fullerton said. “(Every donation) goes directly to a family in need, so I think that’s something that’s needed in Mississippi. We’re just trying to get our name out there so that people know that we’re here and that’s what we do.”
Patrick Fullerton sees the need as constant.
“There’s always going to be a need out there. There’s always going to be that single mom that is working two jobs but she can’t afford Christmas, or that family where the main provider gets his hours or her hours cut and loses their job, because, for instance, this year with COVID, a lot of people lost their jobs and got laid off,” Patrick Fullerton said.
Since the beginning, the goal has been to inspire others to do good acts and give to others. Jamie Fullerton hopes children are inspired to help other children by donating their old toys so others can experience joy.
“We’re hoping for that and to spread love and to spread the pay it forward message that giving is better than receiving,” Jamie Fullerton said.
The organization hosted a toy drive and then held a Christmas event at Arby’s in early December to hand out donated Christmas items.
The biggest project this year has been fundraising to add all-inclusive equipment at Veteran’s Park. Cami Jo Cares started the project after seeing there weren’t many parks accessible to children with disabilities. The goal is to raise $60,000, and there is a GoFundme for the project to raise money for “as long as it takes."
“We want everybody to help contribute to it, that way they can say they were part of getting it built. If they could donate a dollar to five bucks, (everyone), we could probably get it built,” Patrick Fullerton said.
For the Fullertons, COVID-19 has only amplified the need to keep going with their mission. Cami Jo Cares has served over 500 children this year. Because toy donations were limited, there is a waiting list of about eight families, with close to 12 families inquiring.
The needs range from newborn to teenage years, with an especially pressing need for donations suitable for children ages 10 to 17. Jamie Fullerton said there have been a lot more teenagers this year, and the bulk of donated toys aren't suited to that age group.
“If we can help a family out during Christmas where their kids wake up Christmas morning and they have a Christmas present, that’s all that matters,” Patrick Fullerton said. “We hook up kids with back to school supplies and a backpack, well that kid’s going to have an education and him or her will have the supplies they’ll need.”
The nonprofit welcomes clothing donations, especially shoes, year round to help families through hard times as children grow and seasons change. They stress that donations be gently worn, meaning no badly stained or worn clothing.
Because they are low on winter clothes, Cami Jo Cares is welcoming volunteers to help them sort clothes. Volunteers will be limited to only one at a time while sorting on location unless they live in the same household. Starting in the next month or so, the organization will need new toy donations to prepare for next year. They are also planning a Valentine’s Day event that is still pending based on COVID-19.
More information on how to contact Cami Jo Cares, how to donate or where to find the GoFundMe to contribute toward inclusive playground equipment can be found at https://camijocares.com or the Cami Jo Cares Facebook page.