Nostalgia and excitement filled the air at The Inn at Ole Miss as Facilities Management Department employees gathered for the University of Mississippi’s 20th annual Books and Bears program Friday (Dec. 15).
Sponsored by the campus Black Faculty and Staff Organization, the charitable event distributed hundreds of new teddy bears, children’s books and toys given by UM faculty, staff, students and alumni over the past three weeks. The number of presents donated for the children and grandchildren of facilities management employees reached a new record.
“The thoughtfulness and outpouring of support from the UM family has been nothing short of amazing this year,” said Donald Cole, associate provost and associate professor of mathematics. “By helping others, we have truly captured the spirit of the holidays.”
Cole, along with Janice Murray, associate dean of liberal arts and professor of art, organized the first Books and Bears in 1997 in response to what they saw as a need to help custodial staff provide Christmas gifts to their children. Spread by word of mouth only, the initial response to the call for donations was overwhelming.
“We wanted the staff’s children to have the books for literary development and the bears for nurturing purposes,” Murray said. “People have been responding generously ever since. Somehow, there’s always been enough so no one left empty-handed. It’s truly amazing.”
Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter thanked the employees for their hard work and dedication.
“We truly appreciate all that you do to make the university such a special place that people love to visit,” Vitter said. “We hope that this wonderful program expresses some of our gratitude. Merry Christmas and have a great new year.”
Reception at the event was both reflective and enthusiastic.
Hardin recalled that the most significant present he took home was from the 2011 program.
“It was a great big ole white bear,” he said. “He was 1-1/2 when I gave it to him and he loved that bear; slept with it every night.”
James “Poncho” Wilson of Oxford, who has attended every Books and Bears distribution since the program began, had a similar experience last year.
“I finally won that bike,” said Wilson, who works in the trucking department. “I gave it to my 6-year-old granddaughter. She was ecstatic.”
General maintenance worker Brad Skeeks of Oxford won the first bicycle of the morning. He had his photograph taken with Vitter.
“This is a great way to get a few extra gifts for my daughter and granddaughter,” he said. “It also gives me a chance to see people I don’t get to see much through the year.”
Specificity is not a requirement for Stanley Reynolds of Oxford.
“It doesn’t have to be any particular thing for my children,” said the seven-year employee at The Inn at Ole Miss. “Just seeing the excitement on their faces over whatever they receive is a blessing.”
Black Faculty and Staff Organization members expressed pleasure over the assistance in obtaining toys and books for the children.
“Over the years, Books and Bears just keeps growing and growing,” said Jackie Certion, senior academic adviser in the College of Liberal Arts. “We truly appreciate the leadership of Dr. Cole, who always manages to bring out the best in everyone who works with this program.”
Murray summed up the program succinctly.
“Thanks to Books and Bears, many of the children of these employees have graduated from high school and attended college either at Ole Miss or elsewhere,” she said. “Our original dream has been fulfilled and more.”