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Spirit of Christmas: Beach couple continue spreading their holiday message of giving

November 29, 2018
By JESSE MEADOWS (jmeadows@breezenewspapers.com) , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

In Jim and Sharon Jamieson's garage, there are 400 rolls of wrapping paper, three giant trash bags full of shiny bows, a box of santa hats, and 30 cases of baby diapers.

Their charity, the Spirit of Christmas, is in its 16th year.

It began in a Walmart, when the Jameisons were shopping for presents.

Article Photos

Sharon and Jim Jameison in their garage full of Christmas decor and donations.

JESSE MEADOWS

"I said, 'this is dumb, Sharon.' What are we going to buy here that's going to have any meaning? So we found a manager and we said, 'is there anybody in this store who's not going to have Christmas?' And he gave us our first family," Jim said.

He took a couple hundred dollars out of his pocket and gave it to an employee at the store so she could buy what she needed for the holiday.

In 2005, they officially registered as a non-profit. That year, they gave Christmas money to 450 kids.

"That was the biggest year we ever had," Sharon said.

They estimate 200-400 children receive aid from their charity every year, with much of the money coming from their auction fundraiser at the American Legion Post 274 on Dec. 4.

"I do the begging, she does the family finding," Jim said.

Jim has spent the last three weeks rounding up donations for the auction from businesses and individuals on the island, often going door-to-door.

It's harder for him this year, because he broke two bones in his leg, but he has managed to secure donations from about 80 donors.

Up for auction will be items like a giant BBQ grill with a smoker, a fireproof safe, two nautical GPS units, and a wagon full of wine bottles.

"We've got a great guy that sings and gets everybody up on the dance floor, it's a hoot. If you come early enough at 5 o'clock, the Legion ladies put on a hot chicken dinner for ten bucks. It's delicious," Sharon said.

The couple puts the funds they raise at the auction into Walmart gift cards.

On Dec. 18, they hold a shopping day at the Walmart on Colonial Boulevard, and invite families in need to buy Christmas presents.

The store dedicates two cash registers to Spirit of Christmas shoppers, and after the families have purchased their items, Sharon gives them wrapping paper and bows to take home, too.

"There's lots and lots of tears," Sharon said. "They don't tell the families how much they are going to give them until the shopping day.

Their recipients are referred to them through various organizations, like the Golisano Children's Hospital.

They receive tips from people in the community, too, and Jim makes house calls to vet the families first.

"This year I got a phone call saying, would you help a family out? They're living in a tent," Jim said.

He met with the couple and their three kids at the end of a dirt road, their tent stashed behind a pile of rocks.

The family had fallen on hard times after losing their house in a hurricane and struggling to find work.

Sadly, that's not the only homeless family they've encountered.

Jim also recalled the story of a mother who was living in an SUV with her five children, taking baths in a local park. He has since worked to place them in a home, and directed them toward services that can help.

Last year, the Jamiesons started a new project that would place families like these in an "Angel Home" on a low-cost rent-to-own plan.

"How do you get stories like this out of asking, can we help you buy some toys for Christmas? It comes out of thin air," Jim said.

He insists the reason they do this work is "because we can", but they also know how it feels to lose everything.

Years ago when they lived in Ontario, Canada, they went through bankruptcy.

"Everything I owned was on the front lawn, the doors were locked, they were changing the door knobs and the keys, towing two cars away, everything was gone," Jim said.

"I cried Christmas Eve, cause I had nothing for the kids," Sharon said.

Jim told her he had $20 for either a tree or a present, and Sharon chose a tree.

Now, they stock up on Christmas trees when they go on sale in January, and give them away to families during the holidays.

"I basically want to end a rotten year for them, put some sunshine in their life, and get some christmas spirit in there," Sharon said.

It's a lot of work for the couple, who are well into their 70's. They devote two months every holiday season to the Spirit of Christmas.

"Would you like to take over a charity?" Jim said, laughing.

But they won't be slowing down any time soon.

Sharon said she would regret it too much if she woke up on Christmas morning and hadn't helped any kids.

"We can't stop. We got to keep doing it," she said.

 
 

 

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