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SIU Carbondale students help needy families with Thanksgiving fixings

CARBONDALE — Two years ago, Saidia McDaniel started Project Love at SIU Carbondale to honor of her grandmother, a woman nicknamed Grandma Love, who taught McDaniel the importance of community service.

Now, McDaniel has grown the group to more than 100 student-members, who do service work and fundraising, from book and blanket drives, to bake sales.

Their mission is broad, McDaniel said: “Spread love wherever it's needed,” especially during the holidays.

“Holidays are really special for me, so I feel like everyone should have that same experience of a loving time with their family members,” she told The Southern.

In early November, Project Love put out a challenge to other Registered Student Organizations across campus: feed a local family in need, this Thanksgiving.

Five campus groups signed on, each assembling a basket full of Thanksgiving classics: Turkey, ham, stuffing and cornbread mix, Pie shells and fillings, canned soup and fresh bread.

Each group decorated their basket, to show their pride and add to the fun.


The National Student Speech Language Hearing Association prepared a basket of Thanksgiving food, decorated like a turkey, to be delivered to a needy family this year. Other SIU Carbondale groups that donated a basket include Project Love, the Black Women's Taskforce, the Black Male Roundtable, and the Hispanic Student Council.

The Black Women's Task Force painted their basket black, yellow and red, and included flowers and handwritten messages from students, with bible verses and words of support.

The National Student Speech Language Hearing Association transformed their basket into a turkey, adding a head and handmade tail feathers, and plastering the outside of the basket with Thanksgiving vocabulary written phonetically in the International Phonetic Alphabet.

McDaniel teamed with Ginger Rye, who leads Women for Change, in Carbondale, to deliver the baskets to families Rye identified that could use the extra help.

“Everyone expressed their gratitude,” McDaniel said. “It was such a good feeling to hand them over to the families, and make sure they had a happy Thanksgiving.”

McDaniel hails from the St. Louis area, and most of the other young women who lead Project Love are from Chicagoland and northern Illinois.

Serving the Carbondale community, they said, has helped them see another side of the college town they know.

They frequently visit the senior citizens at Century Assisted Living, on the east side of town, including around holidays like Thanksgiving, Easter and Valentines Day.

Teleigha McCoy, a sophomore at SIUC who hails from Chicago’s West Side, said she was nervous about her first visit to the center until she met an older man named Joe.

“I still have our Snapchats together, because that’s my friend,” McCoy said. As they shared a coloring book, Joe thanked McCoy and Project Love for coming.

“He was like, ‘I really like you guys, and I know you’re going to come back,” McCoy said. “He told me, ‘I don’t know how long I’m going to be here, but if somebody else is in my room, you make sure you treat them the same way you treated me.’”

People throughout Carbondale have welcomed Project Love’s involvement in the community, she added.

“They know you’re young, and that you might rather be somewhere else, but seeing that people are grateful makes you feel like your work is not unnoticed,” McCoy said.

Through their charitable work, the women who lead Project Love have become “a family,” McDaniel said, that continues to grow.

“I’m definitely staying in Project Love [after graduation],” said Taylor Matthews, a senior. “It’s really sad to see people in hard situations, but it makes you feel good that you can lend a hand.”

A change in the SIU Carbondale calendar gives students a full week off at Thanksgiving this year. That means Royale Bonds, a senior at SIUC and Project Love member, will be able to go home for the holiday for the first time in several years.

“I’ve gone home with friends and I am appreciative of that,” Bonds said. “But being with someone else’s family makes you appreciate your family more because you’re there thinking, ‘my family would be doing this or that.’”

Bonds hopes providing the fixings for a complete meal will allow a few more local families to host Thanksgiving “at their house, with their traditions and their family,” she said.

Looking towards next year, McDaniel said she hopes she can expand the program, encouraging more campus groups to make and donate a basket.

“We can help make a loving Thanksgiving meal happen for families that can't do that on their own,” McDaniel said. “That’s really powerful.”

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Black Friday
Planning for Black Friday starts months in advance at JCPenney in University Mall

When JCPenney in University Mall opens at 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, shoppers will see stacks of deals. But, what they won't see is the months of planning that goes into the store’s annual Black Friday sale.

Annette Bierman, general manager, and Dustin Shelton, cashier supervisor, said the planning started shortly after last year’s Christmas shopping season. Bierman meets with Shelton and the rest of the store supervisors to critique the season. They look at things that worked well and others they would like to change.

The store management team meets on Mondays to plan the next three weeks, but they also talk about big events for the year and map out a rough plan. By the end of July or early August, Bierman is reviewing projected trends for the holiday season to find out what’s expected to be hot for Christmas, as well as items that are big sellers every year like gloves, coats and gift items.

“That really started about three months ago,” Bierman said.

The next focus is staffing. Shelton said hiring starts in late September and continues into October. He has hired an extra 40 associates this year and still needs a few more. An additional 10 former employees work every year through the holidays, nearly doubling the store’s staff.

“If we don’t do good hiring, it makes for a really rough weekend Black Friday,” Shelton said.

He added that the specialty department staff, like jewelry, appliances, mattresses and custom window departments, have to go through extra training to be able to make sure what a customer buys matches his or her needs.

Staff in other departments and cashiers also have to be trained.

Once the staff is in place, they begin stocking for the big sales. They received a shipment on Monday, and it was put on the floor on Tuesday morning before the store opened.

“Last year, at least 400 people lined up before we opened. The line was all the way down to SIH and wrapped around the other side,” Bierman said.

This year, she said they will be one of the first stores to open. Black Friday ads were leaked on Nov. 1, and they began handing them out in the store last week during their Black Friday Warmup. The big draw this year is store coupons. They will hand out coupons to people in line, while they last. The values will vary with one $500 of $500, several $100 off $100 and other lesser coupons. Bierman expects a crowd and will hand out coupons herself.

Santa and Mrs. Claus will be in the store for the big event, too.

JCPenney and the store management offer perks for store associates.

“The company realizes we’re spending time away from family,” Bierman said.

First, Shelton said associates who work are paid double time, but there are other perks, too. Each associate gets a T-shirt and swag bag. A special associate shop was offered before Black Friday, with special discounts that are better than customers will see during the Black Friday sales.

Shelton added that he used his discount to buy himself a watch.

“We try to make it as fun as possible for the associates,” Bierman said.

They will give away a prize for associates every hour, including extra PTO time and an air fryer. Each associate who shows up to work gets a ticket for the raffle. They can earn extra tickets for customer service, patience, and other services.

Bierman fixes a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, with the help of her fiancé — he was at home smoking turkeys while she was being interviewed.

“We have food the entire time,” she said. “If my team is willing to come in and work on Thanksgiving, this is one small way of saying thanks.”

Shelton will be easy to spot. He will be wearing his Christmas suit.

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Steeleville man celebrates 88th birthday by getting a deer during first shotgun season. Then he gave it to a family in need.

STEELEVILLE — As the Saturday during shotgun deer season wound down in dusky twilight, James Jeffers got what he had been waiting for.

The 88-year-old had spent the weekend, his birthday weekend, being escorted by family in and out of the field hoping to get a deer, something he’s done every year since the season was put in place more than 30 years ago.

His youngest son — Jeffers has five — took him out Saturday and helped him walk up the hill in his bibs and hunting cap to sit in a folding chair and wait for his kill.

Just before 6 p.m. Saturday he gave himself a birthday present — a doe.

“He dropped it like a stone,” Jeffers’ son, Jimmy Jeffers, said of the kill. His dad might be nearing 90 but he can still make a good shot.

This was the second day Jeffers had made it out to hunt that weekend — he said he had seen a deer on Friday, but it was too far away.

In the day on Saturday his family celebrated his life with fresh, fried deer and later ice cream. The birthday celebration and deer season are always a family affair for the Jeffers.

“Mercy,” James Jeffers said when asked to count his children and grandchildren — he has five sons, 12 grandchildren, 10 to 12 great grandchildren and two great great grandchildren.

Hunting has been a part of Jeffers' life for as long as he can remember. Jimmy Jeffers recalled his dad in his prime being an avid raccoon and rabbit hunter — he was fond of training redbone and redtick hunting dogs with one garnering him a state championship.

Jeffers moves much slower now and is hard of hearing. His son Jimmy told The Southern that “it has to be nice for him to go (hunting) now.” His children and grandchildren all take turns helping him walk out to hunt when the weather is right and if he brings home a deer they all come out to help him dress and cut up the animal.

Despite needing a hand, Jeffers was emphatic that “why yes” he would be going again next year. He said he goes “whenever I’m allowed to.”

On Sunday, Jeffers’ deer was hanging in front of his garage in Steeleville — he likes to leave the deer on hanging for a few days before processing. Jeffers’ grandson, Doug Jeffers, said it’s a family tradition to have all the hunters — there are many — come together and donate any surplus meat they might have to those in need.

It was a thin first season for the family, but that didn’t stop James from keeping the tradition up this year.

“This year everyone that got a deer needed the meat so there was none to give away,” Doug Jeffers said in a text message. “Well, a poor family came looking for any extra meat we had to spare. Grandpa decided to give them his whole deer. He said they needed it more than he did and he was happy to help them feed their family through the winter.”

Jeffers said he was proud to be related to the man.

“He’s a hell of a man. He would give the shirt off his back and more to help someone in need,” Jeffers said.

Though he might not have his deer, and may not be able to make it back out this year to hunt, Jeffers said the family won’t let their patriarch go without any meat this year.

“Between his five boys and us grandsons that hunt, we’ll make sure he gets some sausage and smokies before it’s all said and done,” Jeffers said.


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Column | Marilyn Halstead: OK, I'll admit it ... I love Black Friday shopping

I don’t really understand deer hunting.

Why someone would get up in the middle of the night, walk into the woods in the cold and sit for hours waiting for a deer to cross his or her path? It makes no sense to me, but I’m glad I have friends who hunt and share the results of their hunting with me.

I like to hunt in a different wilderness — I hunt for deals at Black Friday sales.

There are a lot of similarities. I will get up in the middle of the night, line up in the cold to get the best deal on the latest home appliance.

My Black Friday experience started innocently in the greater Atlanta area. Michael’s (the craft store) offered a 50 percent off coupon for any full-priced item in the store that was good from 6 to 7 a.m. I needed a scrapbooking organizer. With the coupon, they were under $50! (Hey, it was the 1990s.)

My sister and I got up at 5 a.m. and snuck out of her house, leaving all the kids, her husband and our parents asleep. We lined up about 5:40 a.m. in front of the Kennesaw store with maybe a dozen other crazy women. It turned out to be great fun. After securing our purchases, we traveled across the parking lot for breakfast before heading back into Michael’s. (They had a coupon for one-third off at 7 a.m.)

Neighboring stores opened around 8 a.m., so we hit the toy store before heading home to pick up the rest of our crew for a trip to see Santa and more shopping.

We managed to sneak off a few years before our mother decided she wanted to join our early morning shopping venture.

One year, we had about 10 people in three cars shopping. Three-year-old Ashley and 4-year-old Alex rode with me. The whole concept of getting up in the middle of the night was lost on Alex. She kept saying, “We’re shopping and it’s still dark.”

We joined the men in the family for breakfast at 8 a.m. They had hit places like Best Buy, Lowe’s and Home Depot. 

I also have experience Black Friday shopping in Southern Illinois, Champaign and the greater St. Louis area.

I stood in line one year at Kohl’s in Carbondale in the rain with my friend’s daughters. (My friend was at home in bed.) I shared the umbrella I had in the car. By the time we got into the store, we were all wet anyway, but we scored some good bargains!

Another year, about a dozen people were lined up outside the home department doors at Macy’s at University Mall, when some people showed up and tried to push their way to the front of the line. Those of us who were already there devised a plan to get the items we wanted by a sort of group shopping. One person grabbed steam mops, another coffee makers, another sheet sets and so on. It worked remarkably well for a group of strangers.

We started shopping one year in Champaign at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. At midnight, we cut the group, took the grouchy folks home and headed back out with my niece Ally, who was a teenager, and Mandy, who was about 11. We had the best time shopping all night. We had a list and got most of the items on the list. We almost had to leave Mandy at Lowe's that night to get the Christmas tree in the car, but it all worked out.

I have only observed one fight in 25 years of Black Friday shopping. Unfortunately, it was in a local store. A very pregnant mom was holding a Power Wheels vehicle, and another lady tried to take it. You wouldn’t believe how much fight is in a very pregnant mom.

I will be out in the wee hours of the morning this year with my son, who is a great package carrier. I’ve heard JCPenney is handing out coupons …