Following thousands of layoffs in the Tupelo region, holidays will be more challenging for many after recently losing employment.
Mooreville photographer Kathryn Enlow of “Kathryn Leigh Photography” had a series of Santa sessions booked with clients. She felt impressed to ask her Santa, “Santa Sarge,” if he would be willing to do one more day of photo shoots with her. Santa Sarge is known for visiting children at St. Jude and Le Bonheur. Kathryn said, “I asked him what do you think about offering free Santa photos to these families who have just lost their jobs? I don’t know why, but I feel we need to give these away. He said, well, you already know what I think. Let’s give all that we can.”
“Santa Sarge” is Maury Schuh, a retired veteran with over 27 years of service, plus he served as a law enforcement officer and taught the DARE and GREAT programs in local schools. Santa Sarge first donned the red suit over 20 years ago for fundraisers in Tupelo. His parents portrayed Santa and Mrs. Claus for over 20 years in the Tupelo Public Schools and area businesses.
Santa Sarge’s name began while he was a senior noncommissioned officer serving in Kosovo with the US Army. He saw a pressing need for local-national children in orphanages and schools for clothing, supplies, and toys. Santa Sarge coordinated with churches and civic organizations in the United States to send items for the children he distributed while dressed as Father Christmas. The mission became known as “Operation Santa Sarge” and was the subject of a 2008 viral video.
Kathryn’s Santa pictures were merely a gateway into filling an even greater need in providing Christmas for local families who otherwise would not be able to have a Christmas this year.
“I had already planned to have a little Christmas magic and have Santa surprise these precious children with one toy off their Santa list during their session, but a faint whisper said to do more,” Kathryn said.
In some instances, both parents worked for these companies and were both laid off, and in other cases, it was a single mom, or majority breadwinner, that had just lost their job. “It’s hard for people to say that they need help. When I posted the ad on Facebook, I had several families reach out about getting a Santa photo for their child, and I asked them to bring a list of items they wanted to ask for for Christmas.”
Kathryn put up another post on social media asking for community members to donate some money so she could help fulfill these Christmas lists. The outreach has been astounding, and many people have chosen to “adopt a family” and fulfill their lists. “If we get enough people to adopt these families, then the funds I have received via Venmo will be used to gift Walmart gift cards for groceries. One of the biggest needs and concerns expressed has been groceries and diapers.”
“The response has been truly amazing. It’s been emotional talking to some of these parents, normal parents just like me and you, who have had their world flipped upside down. This, this is community. This is hope. This is grace in action.”
Can one person make a difference? Absolutely. Kathryn Enlow and Santa Sarge are creating Christmas magic for families in Lee and Itawamba counties this holiday season. It’s the best kind of magic, too, the kind that comes from the heart.
Kathryn referenced a favorite quote by Elisabeth Elliot: “This job has been given to me to do. Therefore, it is a gift. Therefore, it is a privilege. Therefore, it is an offering to God. Therefore, it is to be done gladly, if it is done for Him.”