Keeping the Christmas spirit year-round in City Hall

single-meta-cal December 27, 2016

Pictured above:  Officer Tory Green volunteers at the Boys and Girls Club of North Alabama, an organization that provided mentoring and guidance when he was a child.

Creating and nurturing a culture of giving back to the community is a point of pride among City employees

A woman rings a bell outside a big-box store as shoppers drop their spare change into the red kettle at her side. A man and his wife buy gifts for children who otherwise might have none. A man leads youngsters by example. A woman steers the mechanism to assure gifts and company for veterans separated from their families.

It’s Christmas spirit, but it’s a spirit of generosity that is year-round. It’s a culture of giving that is encouraged among City of Huntsville employees.

Mia Puckett, the Contracts and Ethics Manager for the City, recalled a meeting of department heads when Mayor Tommy Battle talked about Manna House, a non-profit that provides food services to the needy.

“He spoke of passing the hat, and this was our opportunity to volunteer, to put something in the hat,” she recalled. “He said, when that hat comes by, if you’re able, put something in it.”

Hundreds of city employees put something in the hat, assisting organizations that touch their hearts and have touched their lives. Said Tommy Brown, the Parking and Public Transit Director for the City, “There’s a tremendous amount of giving among employees.”

Here are four stories from City Hall that exemplify that spirit of giving:

Brown recognizes the harsh reality of some of the area’s homeless. They refuse the constraints of service organizations, but they desperately need help. He will give small propane tanks and tarps to help provide heat.

Brown and his wife Jeanne are heavily involved as volunteers Lincoln Ministries, helping the families in the neighborhood and the schools. Their work is, as he put it, “magnified at Christmas,” helping provide gifts “so families can enjoy Christmas.”

They also support Kids To Love, the organization founded by Lee Marshall that helps foster children. Jeanne spends countless hours there putting gifts and packages together.

And when his name came up in conversation with Puckett, she quickly found a photo of Brown, wearing a Santa’s cap and volunteering for the Salvation Army as a bell-ringer.

Photo of Tommy Brown volunteering with Salvation Army

As the City’s Director of Transportation, Tommy Brown sees the many needs in our community. He volunteers after hours with numerous organizations that help low-income families.

Tory Green is a Huntsville Police Department officer, working in the North Precinct. But he literally and figuratively wears two uniforms in that community. He’s a police office, and he’s a scoutmaster.

Green leads Boy Scout Troop 400, a group of two dozen boys from low-income areas. They meet twice weekly at a headquarters building on Dallas Street.

Those attending events at the Von Braun Center likely know his troop. They are loaned land on which they may park cars, raising funds for membership and activities that many of these scouts couldn’t manage on their own.

“The community as a whole has blessed our scout troop,” said Green.

Green is a product of public housing, one of four brothers of a single mom who sometimes struggled to make ends meet. He became interested in scouting and rose to the rank of Eagle, despite hearing taunts from others in the neighborhood about the uniform and the organization. The scouts today hear the same, and he helps instill pride that deflects the taunts.

Green recognized how volunteers and unselfish citizens impacted him, “and that’s why I wanted to be a policeman, to put my life on the line for this community. And that’s why I wanted to help these kids.”

Beverly Lowe, the Parking Services Manager, has an office just down the hall from Brown but with a different charitable focus. Her late husband, Ralph, was “a devout patriot,” in her words. Upon his death in 1979, she moved from Okinawa to Huntsville and became involved in non-profit work.

This was our opportunity to volunteer, to put something in the hat. When that hat comes by, if you’re able, put something in it.”

Lowe is now the president of the North Alabama Veterans & Fraternal Organizations Coalition, an organization that connects some 50 different affiliates. Through this overarching coalition, the groups can coordinate their assets to help one another. Lowe, with “organizational skills I use in every day life,” is the tie that binds them all.

November is “astronomically busy” because of the annual Veterans’ Day Parade, as Lowe said, but many efforts take place during the Christmas holidays, including support of the Tut Fann State Veterans’ Home, where the Coalition encourages visits and gifts for the veterans, including a project to make lap quilts for their comfort.

“There’s always something going on in the veterans’ community,” Lowe said. Her group’s effort “shows that we as a city want to support them, to give back for them giving to us.”

Mia Puckett admitted she has a problem. She can’t say no very easily.

She has been involved in a number of charitable events, but for the last two and a half years has served on the advisory board of the Salvation Army.

“The more I learned, the more I appreciated the good works it does,” Puckett said. “It’s a national organization, but it reaches to what we’re doing here.”

Her role doesn’t mean simply showing up for meetings. It means standing outside on cold December days, ringing a bell and greeting shoppers.

“Time goes by fast,” she said. “There’s a steady stream of traffic. People always have a dollar or a quarter or something to give, and they just smile. And they thank you for what you’re doing.”

With the omnipresent greeters and the Angel Tree project, the Salvation Army is most visible at this time of the year.

“Sometimes you don’t see what goes on the rest of the year,” she said. “Sometimes it gets taken for granted.”

That can describe the work of hundreds of City of Huntsville employees, who do good work volunteering in the community. It’s magnified and perhaps more appreciated during this season, but they’re putting something into the hat year-round.