This year’s recipients were Michael Farris Smith, professor of English at The W, Campus Award honoree; and Helping Hands, Loaves & Fishes, American Red Cross, Salvation Army and United Way, Community Awards recipients.
Making the Campus Award presentation was Maridith Geuder, executive director of University Relations at The W.
“Our honoree lives in a vivid imagination. He creates world that have an uncanny ability to draw you in, or, as he puts it `grab you by the throat,’” she said. “Step into his writing, and you’ll quickly be lost in a creation of sometimes dark possibilities, but one I would argue is ultimately full of hope.”
Smith’s debut novel “Rivers” has earned him recognition from Kirkus Reviews, Indie Next List, Hudson Booksellers, The Atlanta-Journal Constitution and more recently being named one of the best books of 2013 by BookRiot.
“Not bad for someone who grew up in McComb and, by his own description, wasn’t a very good student,” Geuder said. “But it turns out he was very good reader, and while working in Europe he had the good judgment to immerse himself in the literary greats: Faulker, Hemingway, Dickens. When he read Mississippi writer Larry Brown, he found his calling.”
Smith thanked everyone involved in making his book a success, noting that he looked forward to his next project.
The Campus Award presentations were made by Town & Tower Club member Lynne Curtis.
She said, “The organizations we are recognizing today give to our community in ways that are greatly needed and individuals in our community as well as groups from The W, volunteer with all of these groups to enrich this work.
“Town & Tower would like to recognize some of the organizations that help to make Columbus and Lowndes County a better place to live.”
In January, Helping Hands started its 25th year of ministry. The organization runs on donations provided by local churches, individuals, social and civic clubs and the United Way of Lowndes County. Helping Hands provides assistance for rents, mortgages, utilities, transportation and some special needs to Lowndes County families who are faced with immediate short-term emergencies. Helping Hands also provides food items from its pantry. From January up to November, the organization has provided more than $75,000 in emergency funds to more than 800 local families and given food more about 3,300 individuals.
Loaves & Fishes began serving meals in August of 2008, serving about 25,000 meals each year. Meals are served Monday through Friday of each week, including two Thursdays of each month with the help of volunteers from area churches. Their goal is to serve meals at least five days a week.
Curtis added, “The ministry of Loaves & Fishes is intentionally ecumenical, which was part of the original vision. The churches involved ranged from Catholic to Mennonite to everything in between.”
The American Red Cross Northeast Mississippi Chapter provides services 365 days a year, serving 16 counties. Locally, 45 families whose homes were destroyed by fires received financial assistance and hotel accommodations, totaling $42,860. In addition, 49 families were provided emergency communication through the Service to the Armed Forces Program. More than 5,000 individuals received disaster preparedness information through school programs, health fairs, churches, events and civic organizations.
Curtis said, “The American Red Cross helps our neighbors—down the street, across the country and around the world.”
The Salvation Army of Columbus serves Lowndes, Clay, Monroe and Noxubee counties.
“They are particularly visible at this time of year. Their Angel Tree program helps children whose parents have applied. This year there are over 700 children with wishes to be filled,” she said.
The Angel Tree program provides specific wishes that the children have, and The Salvation Army’s Kettle Drive fills in with the things that most every child would like to have at their ages. The Salvation Army also runs a family store that provides funds to help pay people’s light bills, keeps food in the food pantry and provides resources for giving furniture and clothing to fire victims.
United Way also was recognized among the agencies. It helps to fund various organizations, including those that help youth and children succeed, provide crisis intervention and disaster relief and create lasting change in people’s lives. Some of those organizations include Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Boys & Girls Club, American Red Cross, Contact Helpline, Helping Hands, The Salvation Army, Dial-A-Bus, Home Delivered Meals, YMCA, Sally Kate Winters Home, Greater Columbus Learning Center, Recovery House and many more.
“Funding to those agencies is based on the amount the United Way is able to gather during the course of their annual campaign. Each of the last few years, that has been around $425,000 or more,” Curtis said.
This past year, the volunteer center managed anywhere from 15 to more than 15,000 volunteers for community service projects.
The luncheon ended with announcement of the 2014 officers and new Steering Committee members. Officers are Nora Miller, president; Karen Stanley, vice president; Andrea Stevens, secretary; and Dixie Butler, treasurer. Lori Frady, Dr. Richard Holden, Maridith Geuder and Jo Shumake will serve on the Steering Committee.
Town & Tower’s purpose is to promote the mutual interests of Columbus and MUW.