UM staff offers Books & Bears to service workers

Herbert Moore
The Oxford Eagle

Custodians and service workers at the University of Mississippi serve valuable roles. Many work from morning to night. But when the holidays return, some may find it financially difficult to provide Christmas presents to their children.

The Books & Bears program was created to repay those individuals for their hard work.

The Ole Miss Athletics staff has teamed up with Book & Bears to reach the families of the custodians, groundskeepers, and other physical plant staff members.

Created by the Black Faculty and Staff organization more than 20 years ago, it helps needy families make their children happy during the holidays.

Jessica Rizzi, Jennifer Saxon, and Donald Cole lead the program.

Cole is the assistant provost, assistant to the chancellor concerning minority affairs and an associate professor of mathematics.

Saxon is in her first year as assistant athletics director of student-athlete development.

Rizzi joined the FedEx Student-Athlete Development team in June 2015 as coordinator of student-athlete development.

“Because I am one of the original organizers of the program, I spearhead efforts to get the program started each year,” said Cole. “We have a gigantic committee of very helpful individuals who provide lots of the legwork – placing boxes in various buildings to receive gifts, purchasing gifts, coordinating a distribution place, planning a program, providing music, encouraging individuals to give.”

Although the program is called Books & Bears, it also accepts things, such as dolls, bicycles, board games, action figures, footballs, basketballs, electronics, and cash.

“The gifts are collected, the service workers gather and a lottery system is used to allow each of them an opportunity to choose among the gifts,” said Cole. “Expressions of appreciation are given by university personnel and administrators.”

Athletes also volunteer to help with the program.

“In the program, there have been as many as 15-20 athletes from all different groups, such as football, softball and volleyball who come out help with the event, and it really means a lot to the families to have those guys taking time out if their busy schedules to participate in this program every year,” Rizzi said.

This program has grown every year.

“We would like to keep this program going every year, because it is fun and a wonderful way to give back,” Saxon said. “In the future, we also want to make sure we continue to market and set up more opportunities for people to donate.”


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