SLAUGHTERVILLE — Don’t look for any vehicles parked inside the three-car garage at Jim and Annette Brown’s country home. The stacks of wrapped Christmas gifts pushed the vehicles out long ago.
The Browns, owners of the nearby Maguire Farm Store, will celebrate this Christmas Eve as they have for the past 32 years, busily distributing individual gifts to residents of group homes around the state.
The store regularly distributed groceries to families in need. One year, they couldn’t find one and called a nearby group home at 120th Avenue SE and Etowah Road. They fully expected that most of the residents had been invited home to be with their families. Over time, they’ve learned that’s not the case.
“We were so proud that first year, we gave away 34 gifts,” recalls Jim Brown, 70. “This year we’ll do about 12,000. After we came home that first year, we decided we had just celebrated a real Christmas.”
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Annette Brown, 63, walks through the couple’s barn and calls off the Oklahoma towns and cities where the group homes still exist. Prague, Vinita, Wetumka, Hartshorne, Duncan, Mustang. They’ll serve 45 to 50 homes this year.
Their gifts are often the only personalized gift that arrives.
One year, a woman asked if the Browns could find her brother. They found him in Las Vegas and reconnected the two. Many of the residents move around and families lose track of them.
“It’s really sad. If you didn’t get mail or a phone call and nobody ever came to see you. How sad is that?” says Annette. “They’re kind of put away and forgotten about.”
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The Christmas project shares garage, home and barn space with the burn closet the Browns have operated for 26 years. It began when a fire wiped out nearly a dozen of their neighbors’ homes.
That wildfire pales in comparison to the losses from this summer’s wildfires in eastern Cleveland County, less than three miles from the Brown’s store. “If the wind had changed, we’d have lost everything,” said Jim, a former Slaughterville volunteer firefighter.
In a typical year, they will help about 40 families with household goods, kitchen items, appliances, bedding and clothing. This year, they’ve helped 108 to date.
“It was so serious. The numbers were just unbelievable,” said Annette. “This year has been our biggest ever in 26 years.”
Community response has been strong, too. Store customers often drop cash and checks in a jar on the counter. Donors show up with appliances, dishes, silverware, microwaves and cash. Money comes to their non-profit Maguire Community Foundation at 9551 E. Maguire Road, Noble, OK 73068.
“We didn’t turn anybody down. If we ran out, we had the funds this time to buy brand new,” said Annette. “I just love it when I can hand them something brand new.”
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The fires impacted the Brown’s store, too. Some of the nearly 140 families burned out by the fires ended up moving. Many were customers. Insurance and FEMA delays have pushed some to pull up what’s left and move. The emotional losses have mounted, too.
“I’ll bet some of them don’t come back,” said Jim. “We saw it in Bridge Creek with the tornadoes. It was just too much trauma for some of them to move back.”
The year’s drought, tornadoes and fires haven’t dampened the couple’s passion for helping others. In an odd way, it seems to have made them more determined to help the less fortunate.
Volunteers will deliver the gifts on Christmas Eve and then be at home with their own families. Some have been helping for years, making the group home gifts part of their own family traditions.
“You get so much from helping others,” said Annette. “Really, this is the best thing we’ve ever done in our lives.”