People of Action Caring for Kids held its 2nd Annual Stocking Event at its Mall Terrace warehouse on Sunday, Nov. 28.
Driving up to a nondescript former paper company warehouse, I see a vivid PACK THE STOCKINGS yard sign, tents set up for present drop-offs, KONA Ice and Jonny Boy Cookies food truck. Waiting at the entrance is our hostess, PACK founder and executive director, Malena Stone. Dressed in red tights, a blue and green Christmas tree dress and a sparkly tiara, Malena is beaming with happiness as she greets Ms. Clause aka Ashley Mosier.
While hugging every person who passes by, Malena and I walk inside the 10,500-square-foot warehouse to the packing room where we find Susan Allen behind one of of the most organized packaged food assembly lines I have ever seen. After Malena introduces Susan as “my best helper, she practically lives here with me”, I follow the retired teacher over to meet her husband Roy.
After a fab pic of Susan and Roy, I wave over Jamie and Karen White with Stacy Pierce. Proud to see the ladies here again this year, I ask Stacy what is new in her world. The 40-year-old Pooler native proudly shares, “I have worked with Zaxby’s for 21 years now!” The ladies then remind me that I have taken their pics at AMBUC’s Saturday bowling then ask for a pic together. I love it when people want pics so I’m super thrilled when I get a request.
Bypassing a Dream Weaver photo station, I follow Malena into what looks like a real life elves workshop! Santa is sitting beside a Christmas tree greeting kids, Mrs. Claus is reading "Rudolph," stockings are hanging all over the place and there are six ladies working behind aisles of wrapping stations. Meet Deb Lewis, Kelly Calimlim, Andrea White, Myra Pierce, Kathleen McClain and Stephanie Ritzert.
One group pic later, I pause Stephanie to ask about what she loves about her job as a resource manager at The Front Porch. “Helping people find resources they don’t know about and putting the pieces together to make their life better,” is her perfect reply!
Next up is the always smiling and charismatic Liz Giddens. Little did I know it, but Liz was once a foster child. From being bullied, wondering where she would live and not feeling like she had a home, Liz tells me, “I have hesitated in coming here because I knew it would be difficult, but my preacher made a point this morning. He said that those difficult times shaped my life into what it is now. My life is blessed and I want these kids to know that your circumstances don’t define you.”
After Malena introduces me to her “muscle man volunteer” Herman “Worm” Days, we enter the PACK Boutique. Malena points out eight aisles of new clothing, toiletries, accessories and toys. “We have 85 foster kids and children from CASA that come shop with us every three months until they are 18. Sometimes this is their first time being able to pick out anything they want,” shares Malena.
Before leaving I ask the petite mother of three to corral her sons, 10-year-old Weston, 13-year-old Harrison, and 15-year-old Davis with her husband Dudley for my final pic of the day. Seeing the guys surround the ‘93 Miss Johnson High School, I can see why PACK is so successful. Everything Malena does comes from a place of love.
“For the past nine years, we have delivered food bags for at risk children in our community. School nurses often tell us that they see a significant increase in visits on Monday and after holidays because they didn’t have access to enough food. PACK started as a kitchen table project that was created to help fill that void,” shares Malena.
Surrounded by a support system that includes her family, friends, local schools and churches, Malena credits people like Jamie Casino for being with her from the beginning. “We were in a tiny trailer and Jamie sent over 300 boxes of mac and cheese. Today he sent over a $6,000 check to cover today’s event which will give our local kids gifts for Christmas,” shares the petite blonde.
With continued support from Compassion Christian Church, Malena’s dream is to have an entire village of warehouses that will serve every need a child may have. Until then she needs businesses, families or anyone to sponsor a child in crisis, volunteer or donate to this small but mighty non-profit! And if you need to meet a real life angel- Malena Stone will be waiting on you at the front door wearing a tiara!
This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Bunny Ware: People of Action Caring for Kids packs the stockings for foster, CASA kids