published Monday, December 12th, 2011

Cleveland, Tenn., community opens heart for 1,200 Christmas memories

Cleveland High School basketball player Bobby Pittman, a volunteer, helps David Morgan make his toy selections Sunday morning at Kmart.
Cleveland High School basketball player Bobby Pittman, a volunteer, helps David Morgan make his toy selections Sunday morning at Kmart.
Photo by Randall Higgins.
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  • photo
    Volunteer Carol Lackey and Precila Contreras explore Kmart's Barbie selections Sunday morning during the annual Creating Christmas Memories.
    Photo by Randall Higgins /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

  • photo
    Brenda Lawson, founder of Creating Christmas Memories, chats with Bradley County Schools Director Johnny McDaniel before the annual shopping begins.
    Photo by Randall Higgins /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- More than 1,200 children created Christmas memories Sunday morning with the help of nearly that many volunteers and the generosity of businesswoman Brenda Lawson and Kmart.

Lawson started Creating Christmas Memories 17 years ago as a way to help some of Bradley County's children have a merrier Christmas.

"We work through the schools,'' Lawson said Sunday as children and parents began lining up outside Bradley Square Mall. "We figured there is nobody better than a teacher to help us.''

Each school nominates children for the unannounced shopping day. The 1,200 children is a pretty typical number, Lawson said.

Earlier in the week, volunteer shoppers also bought items for the children's younger siblings at home.

On Sunday morning each child, accompanied by a volunteer shopper, spent $100 as they chose. Parents waited in the mall food court.

The volunteers included teachers, high school students, Lee University, Cleveland State Community College, Check Into Cash, local firefighters and police officers and the staff of Brenda Lawson and Associates.

At the end of the shopping spree, Lawson writes a check for the amount, including donations from others in the community. Kmart gives a 10 percent discount, about $11,000, stretching the children's shopping dollars. The store added another $5,000 to that amount Sunday.

Lee student Calah Frazier was one of the volunteers.

"I want to be like Brenda Lawson,'' she said.

Kmart employees start even earlier than the 8 a.m. event, said store manager Tim Reneau.

"We plan weeks ahead,'' he said.

After a busy shopping day Saturday, Kmart employees had to restock and be ready Sunday for the children.

"My employees love it,'' he said. "It wouldn't be Christmastime without it.''

Most of the children were smiling as they came through the doors.

One of the greeters, Bradley County School Director Johnny McDaniel, greeted them and gave them shopping carts.

"This is my job each year,'' he said.

And just about all of the kids nodded eagerly when McDaniel asked if they already an idea what they would buy.

about Randall Higgins...

Randall Higgins covers news in Cleveland, Tenn., for the Times Free Press. He started work with the Chattanooga Times in 1977 and joined the staff of the Chattanooga Times Free Press when the Free Press and Times merged in 1999. Randall has covered Southeast Tennessee, Northwest Georgia and Alabama. He now covers Cleveland and Bradley County and the neighboring region. Randall is a Cleveland native. He has bachelor’s degree from Tennessee Technological University. His awards ...

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ChattyCharles said...

This is a great story, gotta love the love here in our community! If only more people gave money freely to this kind of thing, we wouldn't have to have so many taxes!

December 12, 2011 at 7:39 p.m.
ChrisNicholas said...

Who ever said that there is no real Santa in this world has never truly understood the spirit of giving, because Brenda and Kmart definitely come across as Santa for these kids to me!

May 31, 2012 at 3:17 a.m.
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