Phyllis Barton is a believer. Especially this time of year. The Monroe County retired Sunday school teacher and refractory worker believes in the enchantment of Christmas: Santa Claus, elves, the North Pole and the giving spirit of the holidays.
For the past 41 years, she and her husband, Riley, have taken on a project bigger than most – helping many families and children have Christmas, that otherwise might not.
The Barton duo start in early February every year buying toys, clothing and other items that nearly fill the attic of their two-story Paris home. They also accept donations from the townsfolk to purchase any extra needed items. Then in December, they combine their efforts with the (Paris) First Baptist Church's "Christmas is Caring" program that offers food baskets to people in need – making the Bartons' efforts even bigger and more helpful.
Asked why they do it, the mother of six children, 18 grandchildren and "a bunch of great-grandchildren," says "because I love kids." Riley Barton was hospitalized recently having surgery on his shoulder, and was unable to comment, but Phyllis said, with no hesitation, "he feels the same."
Outside the couple's home are handmade wooden Precious Moments figurines Riley makes and Phyllis paints, specially for the holidays.
Last year, the couple provided Christmas for more than 200 children. This year 168 families, give or take a few, applied for the assistance.
"Just seeing the faces of the parents" is all the joy anyone can ask for, the 82-year-old Phyllis said.
On Thursday, Barton and her neighbor of many years Marie Hooper, packed the toys in black plastic bags to transport them to the Baptist Church for distribution on Friday. The items filled her living room, dining room and front foyer. Barbie dolls, toy cars, video games and gadgets, clothing, bicycles, board games were only some of the items that filled the rooms – a child's paradise indeed. All qualifying families have been contacted. Distribution of the gifts and food baskets will be today in the First Baptist Church fellowship hall.
"Phyllis and Riley are great people," Hooper said. "Anytime there is anyone in need of help, they are there to help them."
Barb McCall, another friend of the Barton family, cited scripture from Phillipians 2:3 to describe her thoughts of the couple: "Do nothing out of selfish or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves."
And the sentiments just keep coming.
One mother making application for her son to receive a Christmas package, wrote on the bottom of her application "God bless them and all they do."
Phyllis hopes there will be someone who will step up to take their place when the day comes for them to give up their reins. But, it can't be just anyone, she said. "It's not an easy job. You have to love what you're doing.
"I love kids and making them happy, and believe that every child deserves a Merry Christmas."