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Yule-tide blessings
Toys for Tots program helps Christmas wishes come true
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Nicole Jackson had a heartbreaking task this year — she had to tell her children there was no Santa Claus. The economic downturn didn’t spare the Jackson household, and Nicole has been surviving on part-time temporary work. Her current job ends on Tuesday.

“We had to tell the kids that we’re Santa Claus. We explained to them that’s there’s just not going to be as much this year,” Jackson said.

For families like Jackson, Saturday’s Toys for Tots give away at the Unity Learning Network on Cook Road was a true blessing.

Her two children, Demetria, 6, and Demetrius, 8, both got to pick out two toys from a collection of board games, Barbie dolls, action figures and sports balls.

“It helps us tremendously. There’s just no other word for it but tremendous. We are blessed by what we receive,” she said. “We had to sit them down and tell them they would maybe only get one gift this year, so getting these two gifts for each of them is amazing.”

Jackson let the kids pick out their own gifts, and Demetrius actually agreed to give one of his two gifts to someone else. Even in the midst of such need, Jackson teaches her children to embrace the spirit of giving.

ULN’s President Tiffany Clay said Toys for Tots donated 400 toys to the center to disperse to needy children. Clay and others were at the center from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday helping hand out toys to families.

“The needs of this community are so great because of the economic hardship,” Clay said. “We wanted to be a blessing to our community.”

This was the first year that ULN handed out toys during the holidays, but Clay said she plans to make it an annual event. Clay and area churches reached out to families in need and invited them to get free toys from the learning center.

Ruby Hall said she had never heard of ULN, but her family received an anonymous phone call about the toy giveaway. On Saturday, she picked up a truck, a Lego set and other toys for her two young boys.

Ahkela Goodings came to pick up two toys for her 3-year old niece who attends classes at ULN. Her niece’s mother and father both lost their jobs, and Goodings said the extra toys would be a great help.

“The Unity Learning Center is a very good place. Miss Tiffany opens up her heart to so many people - my sister talks about her a lot,” Goodings said.

ULN is a non-profit, 501(c)3 organization that offers a variety of educational services. Clay and others teach traditional classes and offer tutoring services, but also offer enrichment classes like music, drama, computer, cooking, sewing, wood shop, photography, dancing and others.

ULN moved into its own building on Cook Road for the first time this September, and is providing a half-day pre-Kindergarten program this year. Clay said next year she plans to offer full-day education for children in Kindergarten through 5th grade.

She said ULN can be a primary educational experience or can help supplement education received at public or private schools. She said she offers CRCT, SAT and ACT training and tutoring in a variety of subjects.

Currently, ULN serves about 50 children, whose families pay on a sliding scale based on their ability to pay. The center has only one full-time worker, but around 25 part-time employees and volunteers partner with the ULN to provide the different services.

Clay said ULN is planning to have another community outreach event on Jan. 16. Families are invited to bring their children’s first semester report cards to the center to receive free tutoring and class instruction. Clay said children with good grades and even those without will both be helped. She said ULN is also partnering with businesses like Checker’s to give away passes for free food and other items.

For more information call the center at 404-944-3119 or visit the Web site at