Six teens from the Oklahoma National Guard Teen Panel came together to make sure dozens of homeless children had a merry Christmas.
The teens, ranging in age from 15 to 18, spent more than nine hours at Positive Tomorrows School in Oklahoma City setting up the Merry Market.
The Merry Market offers the students, their siblings and parents an opportunity to “shop” for gifts for their family members at no cost. Positive Tomorrow's volunteer coordinator Rachel Durham said the event, in its 11th year, is intended to ensure the students and parents have a nice holiday.
“We are aiming to give them the closest thing we can to going out and shopping for their loved ones for Christmas without going to the store,” Durham said. “Most of them don't have transportation, and money is something that is scarce.”
This year, the Merry Market was set up in two rooms at Positive Tomorrows. One room was set up for parents to shop for gifts for their children. The room was filled with hundreds of toys, games, balls, dolls, books, winter clothing and about anything you could find at a retail store. Items were carefully sorted and set out for display by the teen panel.
Another room was set up for the children to shop for their parents. The room featured bath products, jewelry, makeup and household goods for the children's mothers, and watches, cologne, wallets and other items for the dads. The teen panel set up this room, too, along with an area the shoppers could visit to have their items gift-wrapped for free.
“I can't believe all of the great toys and games and the beautiful adult items that have been donated for this event,” said teen panel member Michael Degarmo, of Choctaw. “This just goes to show how generous Oklahomans are.”
Importance of giving
Positive Tomorrow's extracurricular activities coordinator Teri Barkus said the Merry Market teaches the kids the importance of giving to others.
“Most of our children come from homeless shelters, or they're living in hotels, so they don't always have the means to go out and purchase a gift,” Barkus said. “This teaches our students the importance of being able to give something back.
Durham said the Positive Tomorrows students are generous.
“They have basically nothing, but they are some of the most generous children that I have ever met. To give them the opportunity to come in and pick out a present for mom and dad or a loved one is going to be really special for them.”
Christian Keenan, president of the Oklahoma National Guard Teen Panel, said Positive Tomorrows was the perfect way to start the panel's charity drive.
“It's really important because these kids are all homeless, and these may be the only Christmas presents they will get,” Keenan said. “We thought this was an important and worthwhile charity to give to this month.”
Pam Reeds, children and youth program coordinator for the Oklahoma National Guard Family Program Office, said the Oklahoma National Guard has a history of community involvement. “Our kids are so excited to have the opportunity to bring some joy to the lives of the Positive Tomorrows families.”
Maj. Geoff Legler is with the Oklahoma National Guard's Office of Public Affairs.