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Wesson woman hopes to lift spirits by collecting toys for children in Gatlinburg

The holidays serve as a good reminder of the blessings we’re given in life. For some, however, it will hold memories of things lost.

The damage from the raging wildfires in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, this past week has forced thousands of families to go without Christmas this year. One Wesson woman is hoping to change that for as many as she can.

Paige Anderson and her family were planning to spend Christmas in Gatlinburg this year.  Then on Monday, the wildfire that ignited five days earlier on a steep, rugged peak known as Chimney Tops, began its four-mile descent straight to the city. In less than 24 hours, aided by 87 mph winds and months of suffocating drought, the blaze spread, forging a path to this tourist mecca. In all, 13 people were killed, about 85 were injured and nearly 1,000 homes and businesses were charred or destroyed.

After confirming that their lodging was still there, Anderson decided they would still go, but with the purpose of bringing Christmas.

“I got moved big time when I saw what was going on in Gatlinburg,” she said. “I have a Facebook friend who is over the Ripley’ Aquarium in Gatlinburg. We had a phone conversation and came up with a plan.”

Anderson will be collecting toys throughout the next few weeks to bring on her trip to the tourist town. Upon arriving, she will deliver the toys to the aquarium, where local children will be able to pick out a Christmas present.

“We wanted to do something to help,” she said. “Our main concern was that the news would stop covering the destruction and people would forget about these families and children before Christmas.”

Anyone willing to donate new or gently used toys to send to the children of Gatlinburg can drop them off locally at both the Brookhaven and McComb Lott Furniture stores, Zeal Boutique in Brookhaven, the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Brookhaven, Glow Tanning Salon in Brookhaven, Mary’s Barber Shop in Brookhaven or Milltown Mall in Wesson.

Anderson has also set up other drop off locations throughout the state.

She said sports balls, bikes, Barbie dolls and Legos are just a few examples of toys that could be donated. If someone cannot deliver their donations at a drop off location, Anderson will pick them up. Monetary donations to go toward purchasing additional toys are also welcome.

“We would love to be able to fill a U-Haul truck to take up there,” she said.

The last day to drop off toys at one of the five locations is Dec. 20. Anderson and her family will personally deliver the toys on Dec. 23.

“In a lot of ways, Gatlinburg is local because so many people from this area spend time there,” Anderson said. “It’s a really beautiful place. We just need to get the word out to help these kiddoes have a good Christmas.”

For more information, call Anderson at 601-695-0209 or email toysforgatlinburg@gmail.com.