Restaurant collects donations for student lunch debts

KEVIN HARVISON | Staff photoLevenia Carey, co-owner of Carey-Out Smokehouse, says she plans to pay off students' lunch debts with her own money and any donations.

Levenia Carey is doing her best to try and make sure every child in McAlester has a happy Christmas, but she needs some help from the community.

"My goal is a gift for every child," Carey said. "I would like to do that, but I don't have that kind of superpower."

Carey, of Carey-Out BBQ catering in McAlester, is also a counselor. She's knows some children in McAlester will get nothing for Christmas unless others step up to help. She helps through a project she started called Christmas Angels.

"This is my fourth year," Carey said. "We would do things as a family." Instead of buying gifts for themselves, she and her family would buy gifts for children they knew that might have otherwise faced a Christmas without a gift.

"I became aware of a greater need," Carey said. She said her profession as a counselor gave her an opportunity to wok with low-income families.

"Up until this year, it was only families I knew of personally," Carey said. This year, because of COVID-19, she feels there are more children who may get little or nothing for Christmas, without the help of others.

Unfortunately, the response from those wanting to assist has not been as great as it has been in the past, she said.

"It's much slower than it was this time last year," she said.

Carey said anyone who would like to help can contact her. Because of COVID-19 precautions, she is not having people come to a central location and pick a name from a tree. She said she will send the information to those who want to help.

Carey said she can be called or texted at 918-470-3219. She planned to stop taking any new additions from those needing help on Friday, but she still needs community support to be able to provide gifts.

"To contribute, my goal is by December 12," Carey said. She knows those purchasing presents may not be able to buy everything a child might want, such as an Xbox gaming system, for example.

"It's a wish list," Carey noted. "But instead of saying 'I can't give this,' they could give a gift card."

Carey suggested gift cards could be an option, because then the recipient could pick out what he or she wants.

Carey wishes each child could receive at least $50 worth of gifts, but she also realizes not everyone can help by that amount. If someone can help with donations even as small as $5, that could be added with others, she said.

Those contacting her to help a child with a donation or gift can suggest how they want to help, such as the age of a child, for example. She said Christmas Angels helps all children, from birth through high school.

"They can leave a message or text," Carey said of those who want to contact her wanting to help a child. "They can pick an age or gender. I can send five or six suggestions."

Carey noted she is not conducting a drive for used clothing.

"It's a Christmas gift," she noted. "It's not that we're gathering up clothing."

Carey said when a gift, gift card or other item is purchased for a child, the person giving the gift can contact her and she will arrange a meeting to pick it up, probably at a local church.

"I'm trying to do it COVID-conscious," she said.

Gifts should be in their packaging and unopened. They do not have to be gift-wrapped, because Carey said the families of the children will wrap their gifts. That way parents will know what's in the packages their children will be opening, she said.

For now, she's hoping other members of the community will step up and assist with gifts or donations.

"It's really slow," Carey said. "We can really use as much as possible."

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.

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