10 Country: Donna’s Big Heart - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

10 Country: Donna’s Big Heart

December 23, 2003

Tifton, Ga.-- Santa Claus starts his annual worldwide tour in a few hours, and if he needs some help, he should look up professional delivery person Donna Tillman.

“I started with UPS in 1978 working part time,” says Donna, who works full-time, now. But, long before that, her grandparents were delivery people, too, carrying hope to people outcast and down on their luck. “I remember my grandfather hiring people to work on the farm when no one else would,” says Donna, as she gets ready to unload boxes.

That spirit of unselfishly helping others got passed down to Donna, a single mother who spends about $1,000 year of her own money, to make gift bags for senior citizens and children forgotten during Christmas.

“All of my spare money goes into my charity all year long,” says Donna who always looks for clearance sales to get the most items for her money. Her UPS job routinely takes her to numerous stores everyday where she looks for sale items and will often come back to buy them.

“I have a big heart, and Christmas is the biggest, big heart time,” says Donna as she grabs the handle and tilts over a cart loaded with boxes. She’s always in a hurry, but never pushy, taking time to speak to a child about the holiday.

People have noticed her generosity since she started the annual gift giving five years ago, and believe in what she does to the point of volunteering to help her spread the joy.

“We do this to help out a good friend,” says Lisa Eshleman who has volunteered to assemble bags for the past three years. “We would work all year round if that is what it took to make someone’s holiday.”

The Tifton Mall loaned her prime real estate during the busy holiday season. “It’s about 1,700 square feet and she uses the back portion. It has heating and air conditioning and a safe place to work,” says Vicki McKellar who manages the mall.

It would cost about $2,500 a month if Donna rented it, but she doesn’t have to worry about space at all. “I will find her some space even if she has to use my office,” says Vicki McKellar.

The workspace, with all those cheerful gift bags, boxes loaded with shampoo, conditioner, and other toiletries makeup the gift bags, has gift items all around. A backroom holds 150 completed bags with read, green and white handles, ready for pick-up and delivery to the Leroy Rodgers Senior Center.

Donna has 50 more reserved for children. Law enforcement officials have contacted her on Christmas Eve before to help a family whose house burned, along with all their gifts. Donna immediately provided more gifts to open on Christmas day.

She doesn’t ask for donations, but will accept gifts, doing her good deeds anonymously, and hopes her daughter, Brooke, will continue her work one day, making it four generations of generosity.

“Good job,” says Donna to Brooke as she finishes a bag, one of the many headed to the senior center. The men and women at the center immediately light up when they see the staff handing the colorful bags to them.

Her gifts bring out the kid in people. One man holds up a Bugs Bunny stuffed animal as he smiles with delight. “This is fine,” says another man looking through a book that came in his gift bag. “I love to read and wash my hair,” says a lady holding a book and a small bottle of shampoo.

“They are just older kids. We’ll all be older kids one day,” says Donna. The smiles continue, and without notice they starting singing “Silent Night” after everyone sees what’s in their bag.

“We appreciate everything we get,” says another lady who presses her bag to her chest as if hugging it. The bags brought immediate joy to each person who may not have a joyful Christmas if it were not for a third generation big heart.

Donna doesn’t ask for donations, but accepts support from those who believe in what she does. She can be reached at 229-382-9641.


posted at 9:30AM by dave.miller@walb.com