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‘Mr. Bingle' promotion nets Christmas gifts

for Katrina-affected children

By Major Frank Duracher

Southern Spirit staff

Anyone growing up in New Orleans over the past few generations should be able to explain "Mr. Bingle," a little snowman character conceived by Dillard's department stores (formerly Maison Blanche).

Mr. Bingle (shown, bottom) has holly wings (which enable him to fly), an ice cream cone hat, and ornaments for his eyes. He also carries a magical candy cane. Through the years, New Orleans children anxiously waited for Mr. Bingle's daily five-minute television program, featuring the hottest toys available every yuletide season. Maison Blanche conceived the marketing promotion in the late 1940s.

For the past twelve years, the Salvation Army Women's Auxiliary has operated an outreach in New Orleans similar to an Angel Tree. Through a collaborative effort with Dillard's, a Mr. Bingle Christmas tree ornament (shown at left) is designed each year and given to anyone sponsoring a child with toys and clothing for Christmas.

"The ornaments themselves have become something of a collector's item," said Curtis Perez, auxiliary president. "More important, so many children benefit by getting nice things for Christmas - many were affected by Hurricane Katrina."

The popularity of Mr. Bingle through the years is now helping families return to a familiar and happy tradition that is distinctively New Orleans, she said.

"Last year we couldn't have the Mr. Bingle drive because of Katrina. But this year it is more popular than ever, and people are again proving to be very generous," Perez said.

Maile Gieseler and her young son, Christopher, continued their annual tradition of sponsoring children this Christmas in honor of the family grandparents with the Mr. Bingle ornaments as a gift to the grandparents on Christmas morning.

"It's hard to shop for grandparents, and they love the fact that children are being sponsored in their name," Gieseler said. "Our family has been doing this for all twelve years (the Mr. Bingle program) has been here."

Major Michael Hawley, Greater New Orleans area commander, recognizes the importance of this particular women's auxiliary project - particularly in light of the ongoing disaster recovery effort for southeastern Louisiana.

"Using case histories of families we've already been helping in their recovery effort, we were able to identify children impacted by the storm, who would enjoy a brighter Christmas this year," Hawley said.

Mr. Bingle is a New Orleans cultural icon as famous as Mardi Gras, red beans and rice, gumbo and beignets, he said.

Worldsend supports one man's call to Uganda

Salvation Army project will help improve children's welfare by providing health awareness initiatives, education and shelter

By Dan Childs

Southern Spirit staff

Easton Hall has for some time felt called to minister to the people of Africa. He'll soon have the opportunity to live out the calling as part of a Salvation Army project in the civil war-torn nation of Uganda.

Hall, 34, will serve as the project coordinator for an early childhood development program in 13 camps for internally displaced persons in Uganda's Gulu district. The project is directly administered by The Salvation Army's Uganda Command under Major Godfrey Payne and is largely funded by UNICEF. The USA Southern Territory has agreed to provide $16,000 in funding Hall's work in Uganda, one of the South's mission partner nations.

Hall, who grew up in Jasper, Ga., about a mile from Georgia Division's Camp Grandview, served in the U.S. Army and has served in various community outreach ministries. He was a volunteer in the Hurricane Katrina relief effort and worked side-by-side with Salvation Army personnel in that operation.

"I think that the nature of our team down in Bay St. Louis which was made up of many different independent organizations helped me learn the different scopes that various organizations bring to the table," Hall said. "I'm looking forward to a long-lasting relationship with The Salvation Army, and I am proud to serve the Lord Jesus Christ."

The need for a coordinator for the project was identified this past September when Curtis Elliott (shown below with Easton Hall) of the territory's Worldsend initiative traveled to Kenya and went on to Uganda to do a needs assessment. Elliott was aware of the widespread human suffering in Uganda as a result of the civil conflict between Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army operating primarily in northern Uganda against the nation's government.

Kony is a self-proclaimed spirit medium who appears to want to establish a state based on his own unique philosophy that blends the Bible and African tribal paganism. His LRA has been accused of many human rights violations including mutilation, torture, rape, abduction of civilians, use of child soldiers and massacres. One account states that within a single decade, the LRA kidnapped more than 8,000 children for conscription as soldiers. Many of those children are now presumed dead.

Hall has been charged with the establishment of programs and facilities for young children in camps for displaced persons. The project will attempt to improve living conditions for children 3-5 years old. Many of those children have never lived outside the camps, which are overcrowded and lack acceptable sanitation and hygiene. Part of Hall's responsibility will be to coordinate the construction of shelters that provide a safe and clean place for 150 children. The shelters will include latrines, an enclosed rest area, a store and a play area.

In addition to improving living conditions for young children, the project will reduce the need for older siblings to care for the very young and free them up to attend primary school. The project will also raise awareness within the camp population of the sanitation, health and nutritional needs of young children.

Can-A-Thon continues its 24th year

Abby Gontner, daughter of cadets Craig and Darla Gontner, greets Santa with a warm smile at the 24th annual Can-A-Thon at Turner Field in Atlanta on Nov. 29, 2006. WXIA-TV is one of the partners that helps the Army collect over 170,000 cans to be used year-round for grocery orders at six metro Atlanta offices of The Salvation Army. Read about other partnerships in the special insert.



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