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MC’s Angel Tree, Mustard Seed Sponsorships Kindle Giving Spirit During Christmas

Shari Barnes, left, MC Community Services Center director, explains the Angel Tree giving program to Megan Collins, a sophomore Christian Studies student from Clinton.
Shari Barnes, left, MC Community Services Center director, explains the Angel Tree giving program to Megan Collins, a sophomore Christian Studies student from Clinton.

As part of her annual Christmas giving tradition, Dr. Charlotte McMath, a retired mathematics assistant professor at Mississippi College, would participate in an Angel Tree program at her local bank, shopping for children in need throughout the year and matching her gifts to “angels” in need.

When Shari Barnes introduced the Angel Tree program to Mississippi College as part of the MC Community Service Center director’s ministry to incarcerated men and women, McMath began adopting “angels” at MC.

Then one season, she had an epiphany.

“It occurred to me that just picking two or three or four angels at random wasn’t fair to the children in the program,” McMath said. “I wanted to make sure that all the children from a family basically received the same number of gifts. That way, one child in the family didn’t receive a lot while another from the same family received much less.”

McMath told Barnes she wanted to adopt all the “angels” in a family. Ever since, the MC alumna and her husband, Dr. John McMath, MC professor emeritus of math and longtime Choctaws golf coach, have been supplying an entire family with clothes, shoes, toys, and other items to fill every Christmas stocking each year.

“My husband and I don’t have children of our own,” McMath said, “so making sure these children have Christmas gifts is something that we delight in doing. That is Christmas to us, and it’s our Christmas.”

According to Barnes, the willingness of donors like the McMaths and countless others at MC to help provide for children and families they’ve never even met is what the season of giving is all about.

“It’s my favorite part of Christmas, helping someone else,” Barnes said. “With their parents incarcerated, these children usually have to go live with their grandparent or aunt or uncle, who don’t always have money to provide them gifts for Christmas.

“Sometimes these children wouldn’t have a Christmas if it weren’t for MC faculty, staff, and students taking this on. It's really gratifying to me when a grandparent comes to me and says, 'Thank you so much, because we wouldn't know what we would have done.'"

For the last 16 years, Barnes has requested a list of boy and girl “angels” whose parent or parents are incarcerated in Mississippi. During the week before Thanksgiving, she displays their first names, clothing and shoe sizes, and some of their interests on construction paper angels tacked to a display board in the Caf. Angel tree sponsors then select an angel, purchase some of the requested items, and return them to Barnes.

“We’re not meant to be their only Christmas – we’re here to support them,” she said. “The incarcerated parent will specify what they would like for their child to receive, and we’ll try to accommodate that. Usually they just list one or two items, but we try to go above that and do a little more for these children.”

The Angel Tree program isn’t the only way Barnes helps facilitate the Mississippi College Family’s assistance for individuals in need during the Christmas season. For the last four years, she has also enlisted MC employees and students to sponsor “Seedsters” – residents of the Mustard Seed, a Christian community in Brandon for adults with developmental disabilities.

“These adults stay at the Mustard Seed during the day – some at night – and go home on weekends,” Barnes said. “We will specifically ask for certain items – such as T-shirts, blankets, towels, warmup suits – for them.

“They usually will have a big party and send us a video of the Seedsters unwrapping their gifts.”

Dana Elmore, director of purchasing and accounts payable at MC, said she has long been a supporter of the Mustard Seed.

“They’re a great organization and they do good things,” Elmore said. “Shari always has things every Christmas we can participate in, and I always participate in whatever she does. I enjoy doing that for the Mustard Seed.”

Elmore said sponsoring a Seedster couldn’t be easier – participants just pick a man or a woman and fill up a bag with items the Seedster has indicated he or she would like to have.

“I’ve bought a warmup suit, beach towels, stuffed animals – even socks,” Elmore said. “There are several items they request, and I try to get everything I can. Anything I can do to help somebody else is a good thing to do.”

Elmore said she considers it a distinct pleasure to be able to support the Mustard Seed each year.

“I think it’s important that we care about people, and I think it’s a wonderful opportunity to show our Christian values,” she said. “It’s just a privilege to be a part of Mississippi College, to be part of an institution that helps people.”

Barnes said the Angel Tree and Mustard Seed programs provide excellent community service opportunities for student clubs and tribes at MC.

“The fact that, as part of our Christian faith, we should reach out to these places and help them reflects on our college and on our Christian heritage,” she said.

Barnes said Christmas donations to the Angel Tree should not be wrapped – for a very good reason.

“I want the children’s guardians to be able to see what it is the child will be getting – to have the joy of being a part of it, too, by wrapping the gifts themselves,” she said. “The gifts are supposed to be coming from the incarcerated parent. The guardians will have the choice to say they’re from Daddy or from Mommy.”

As for the Mustard Seed gifts, “Because of their disability, we will individually wrap everything that goes into their bags,” Barnes said.

McMath said it’s important for the Mississippi College Family to support programs like the Angel Tree and Mustard Seed.

“It teaches us to give back and help others and have a grateful and thankful heart,” she said. “It just makes one feel good to know that you are making a difference in the lives of others that you don’t know.”

Barnes is seeking sponsors for 175 angels and 41 Seedsters. All gifts are due by Wednesday, Dec. 15. For more information about Mississippi College’s Angel Tree or Mustard Seed programs, see Barnes in the Caf during lunch hours, call her at 601.925.3267, or email her at