Michigan child's compassion sparks Christmas toy drive for coast


"And a little child will lead them.." — Isaiah 11:6b

By Woody Woodrick
Advocate Editor

Madelyn Galbraith might not understand what she has done, nor might children on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. But rest assured, their parents and friends know.

Little Madelyn's concern for children affected by Hurricane Katrina led to a toy drive that will make Christmas a lot brighter for children in Mississippi.

Madelyn, 3, lives in Genesee, Mich. When she saw on television the destruction left by the Aug. 29 hurricane, she got her piggy bank and said, "The children are going to need toys."

Madelyn’s parents allowed her to donate her savings to the Salvation Army, but her grandfather, Gary Galbraith, decided to go a step farther. A member of Genesee United Methodist Church in the Flint District of the Detroit Conference of The United Methodist Church, Galbraith said his daughter planned to do a vocal concert at a district event to raise money for hurricane relief. They decided to also ask churches to bring toys for the children of the Seashore District of the Mississippi Conference.

"There are about 72 churches in the district," Galbraith said. "They brought a lot of toys and stuff. There were a lot of Christmas programs going on, but most of the churches sent representatives."

The weekend of Dec. 9-11, the Rev. Bruce Taylor of Pascagoula, Miss., First UMC and his wife Susan flew to Michigan for the event as representatives of the conference, district and churches of the Gulf Coast. On Dec. 11, Taylor spoke at Thetford Center United Methodist Church and Genesee UMC where the Rev. Bruce Nowacek is pastor. Taylor had plenty to say.

"I told them about the experience Susan and I have had — coming back and finding the house destroyed and virtually everything we owned gone," Taylor said. "I told them how we had experienced total loss and then in the middle of the catastrophe had witnessed a miracle as assistance, supplies and volunteers poured into Pascagoula and all across the Gulf Coast. 

"I thanked them for their compassion and their generosity, and said how because of them we were on the way back to recover and rebuild."

The two churches, with a combined membership of about 200, took a special offering and raised nearly $10,000 for UMCOR.

On the trip, the Taylors got to meet Madelyn and others involved in the toy drive.

Once the toys were collected, they had to be transported. Gary Galbraith said a pickup truck was offered, and then a trailer was donated. Galbraith, Robin Phillips of Genesee UMC and Keith Cregar of Thetford Center UMC left Michigan the afternoon of Dec. 14 and arrived in Pascagoula nearly 12 hours later.

During that weekend, the toys were distributed, and the Michigan visitors were given a tour of the devastation.

"We drove along the beach and noticed the houses were empty because of the water (damage)," Galbraith said. "The houses that were standing were uninhabitable."

Galbraith said seeing the destruction first-hand made a much greater impact that seeing the images on TV.

However, distributing toys to families lifted their spirits, Galbraith said. "It was good for us to do that. I felt a little like St. Nick going around putting bags by doors and sneaking away. It was not a time to be thanked," he said.

Galbraith and Taylor said the toy drive exemplifies the strength of the United Methodist connectional system.

"The Methodist connection made this possible," Galbraith said. "The two guys I took down with me realized the connection."

Taylor said he talked about the connection during his trip to Michigan. "We talked about the strength of our connection in the United Methodist Church and the strength of the connection to all those who have helped us," he said.

Taylor also had a special gift for Madelyn — a photograph of a sunflower emerging from the debris of a home.

"I told them they are the sunflower in the midst of the destruction of our lives," Taylor said. "They are our hope as the flower represents hope. I told them that where there is life there is God and that where there is God there is hope. 

"During this Advent/Christmas season they have been a manifestation and the incarnation of God's love in our lives through their concern, prayers, generosity and gifts."