- Associated Press - Friday, December 25, 2015

HOLLY SPRINGS, Miss. (AP) - Some Mississippi residents spent their Christmas giving rather than receiving this year.

Nicholas Garbacz, disaster program manager for the American Red Cross of North Mississippi, said Friday that members of the Marine Corps helped turn the Eddie Smith Multi-Purpose Center in Holly Springs into a substitute Santa’s Workshop.

The marines donated bundles of toys for those who lost everything - including presents under their Christmas trees - during this week’s killer storms. Two of the seven people killed in Mississippi were from Marshall County, which includes Holly Springs.

Dozens of children and their families picked up a toy or two Friday and other items they might need to help on their path to recovery, Garbacz said.

“It was a wonderful experience on both sides,” he said.

Steve Swann, the agency’s logistic lead, told WMC-TV (https://bit.ly/1kjOSMr ) that he and his wife, Audrey, helped with the giveaway.

“It has a very rewarding feeling, helping out other people,” Swann said. “One day I might be one of them, who knows. And we want to turn things around.”

In 2012, he spent Thanksgiving and Christmas in New York following Hurricane Sandy.

The Swanns worked day and night since Wednesday, supplying anything residents of the tornado-ravaged city needed.

The tornado damaged several homes that belong to Van Rayford’s family, including his own house. Now Rayford, his kids and six of his grandchildren are in a hotel. Still, he said he’s thankful the Swanns sacrificed their Christmas, so that his family could have one.

“It’s a blessing. It’s a blessing because it can still be Christmas,” Rayford said.

The Swanns granddaughter Sarah does not see it as a sacrifice. She sees it as something she should do. That’s why she volunteered right next to her grandparents.

“The tornado affected these people and they don’t get to spend Christmas how they wanted to either,” Sarah Swann said. “But this is giving back and that’s true meaning of Christmas.”

Garbacz said Red Cross assessment teams have nearly completed surveys of those families affected by the storm and soon will begin meeting one-on-one with them to determine whether they’re eligible for any financial assistance.

Those meetings could occur as early as Monday.

Anyone in need of assistance should contact the Red Cross toll free at 855-891-7325, Garbacz said.

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