• 63°

Couple sparks movement to help others

Oxford resident Curtis Knight, 59, and his partner, Terry Lytal, 61, had an idea.

They wanted to do something to help Oxford’s less fortunate residents. So they created a Facebook group called “Oxford Cares About People and Kids,” and in a matter of days, donations began pouring in.

“Terry and I decided, since we have no children, and our nieces and nephews have gotten big enough and have families they are taking care of — even though we still do Christmas with them — we wanted to do something with our community locally,” said Knight, an interior designer who graduated from the Art Institute of Atlanta. “All I did was post on Facebook that Terry and I wanted to donate some clothing and gifts, and we needed suggestions. Five minutes later, my phone blew up.”

Taken aback by the instantaneous response, Knight and Lytal began fielding phone calls from Oxford residents who wanted to know how they could help. By Sunday, the Facebook group had grown to 1,600 members.

“People really jumped on the bandwagon with us, and really came in with full-blown support,” Knight said.

Then, they had to decide how they were going to move forward and who they were going to help.

Knight and Lytal decided they would first focus on children who stay in Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital’s FedExFamilyHouse.

“The FedExFamilyHouse is made up of families who stay there for free while their children are being treated at Le Bonheur,” Knight said. “The FedExFamilyHouse gets over-looked for toys and gifts for children, because most people who donate are concentrating on the sick children.”

One of Knight’s trucks filled with toys will arrive at the FedExFamilyHouse Sunday, Dec. 20.

They also wanted to help local children. A fundraiser will be held today, in the parking lot of Sugar Magnolia Antique Mall at 1919 University Ave. in Oxford.

“It’s just been give, give, give, give,” Knight said. “You just can’t imagine in six days what all has transpired. I just can’t put it into words.”

Knight said they will be asking school guidance counselors to identify children in need. And on Christmas Eve morning, Knight and Lytal plan to go to Baptist Memorial Hospital with gifts.

“We’re going to find out what children are there and their age groups,” he said. “If we’ve given away everything that we have collected, Terry and I — out of our own pockets — will make sure that any child who is hospitalized over Christmas will have Christmas in their room.”

Community stepped up

Knight said community members have made many donations in a short period of time.

“It’s just never-ending,” he said. “The giving this community wants to do for such a huge need. I had no idea that Oxford had this much of a need. I didn’t know there was this many people who were struggling this hard.”

Knight also credits his friend, Tana Graham, who is helping lead the donation drive.

“She helped us start it, and she’s taken the position that she’s going to make it happen the way we want it to happen,” he said.

Knight said the group currently is working through the Facebook page, so those who want to donate should contact them through the page.

“It’s just unbelievable in six days,” he said. “I have shed a lot of tears. These people in Oxford have really shown true blue friendship to me and Terry, and I could never repay it. This feels so good, it won’t be the last time. We may not even wait for next Christmas to do something to help some of these people.”

Knight said he was particularly moved by the story of one little girl he heard about in recent days.

“Her request was, could she please have a set of sheets,” he said. “Not toys, not Cinderella, not princess anything. And the reason she wanted a set of sheets is because her towel wouldn’t fit her bed. That’s the kind of stories we’re hearing.”

Knight said another boy has been named Oxford Cares’ first Christmas elf. His mother wrote Knight and told him her son, 10, said he didn’t want anything for Christmas. Instead, he wanted to help others.

“He is our first elf,” Knight said. “He is going to help us all day Sunday. He’s going to go to Le Bonheur with us.”

Lytal said the response has been unbelievable.

“At first, I didn’t really know what to think, because we were sitting and talking, and I just kind of lightly mentioned it,” he said. “It just started evolving. And when we got it on Facebook, it kind of exploded, and all these people started coming out of the woodworks wanting to do something to help.

“It’s really been a wonderful response from the Oxford people.”

Lytal said many people who no longer live in Oxford have sent checks.

“People have been so kind and generous,” he said. “My hope is that we can bring a whole lot of joy to as many people as possible who need it, especially the local people. It just gives you a heartwarming good feeling to be able to help somebody. We take our good fortune and put it to work.”

About LaReeca Rucker

LaReeca Rucker is a writer, reporter and adjunct journalism instructor at the University of Mississippi's Meek School of Journalism and New Media.

A veteran journalist with more than 20 years of experience, she spent a decade at the Gannett-owned Clarion-Ledger - Mississippi's largest daily newspaper - covering stories about crime, city government, civil rights, social justice, religion, art, culture and entertainment for the paper's print and web editions. She was also a USA Today contributor.

This year, she received a first place award from the Mississippi Press Association for “Best In-Depth Investigative Reporting.” The story written in 2014 for The Oxford Eagle chronicles the life of a young mother with two sons who have epilepsy, and details how she is patiently hoping legalized cannabis oil experimentation will lead to a cure for their disorder.

Her website is www.lareecarucker.com.

email author More by LaReeca