11:04 AM

Contagious Giving

Tonia Standridge knew the joy of watching children opening Christmas presents. Her family hosted 82 foster children in their home throughout her childhood and teen years. But it wasn’t until she saw a video of children in Guatemala opening a 90-pound care box sent by a co-worker that she realized the impact of giving a present to a child who had nothing.

Then another co-worker mentioned that he was putting together boxes for the annual Operation Christmas Child program, which sends shoe boxes filled with toys, school supplies and hygiene items to children in developing countries. After filling a couple boxes in 2016, Tonia established a goal of 10 boxes for 2017. Always a bargain shopper, Tonia decided to start collecting items during after-Christmas clearance sales.

“Items that are one dollar or below just seem to find their way into our cart,” said Tonia about a shopping excursion with her daughter. One day, Tonia’s daughter, who was shopping again, called her at work and told her she found children’s eight-pack underwear for one dollar each. She asked Tonia how many packs she needed. “My daughter bought 70 packs!”

Soon, they had purchased so many items, her initial goal of 10 boxes kept multiplying. She had to dedicate an entire closet to the operation. So she decided to use an empty closest at Jackson EMC’s Gwinnett district office. “We are now at 55 boxes, and it’s grown into a district-wide endeavor,” said Tonia, who is quick to credit her fellow Jackson EMC employees with helping her assemble the boxes.

“Some people gave me cash and said, ‘buy what you need.’” All the departments have contributed—from engineering to customer service, from linemen to marketing. Tonia continued, “I’m not really surprised at all by the level of participation in our office; even contractors have made contributions. Everyone jumped on board. I’m so proud to work with people who are so giving, and caring and committed to helping others.”

Tonia and her co-workers have assembled 55 boxes, but it’s still growing. They have created boxes for girls and boys, in age categories of 2-4, 5-9, and 10-14. Each box contains a “wow” toy, a toothbrush, comb or brush, soap, washcloth, pencils, markers and other school supplies, and an eight-pack of underwear. “We fill in the box with pajamas, socks, hats, sunglasses, and a plush toy for the younger ages,” Tonia said.

Tonia and her husband have three children and four grandchildren. Each year, they set aside money for giving away to children in need. “I love shopping and the challenge of finding the nicest gifts for the least amount of money,” she said. “Imagine cutting one dollar off your daily lunch purchase for two weeks. That small amount makes a large impact for a lifetime to these kids.”