Hey there! We hope you had a fantastic end to 2006! While we’re really excited about all of our plans for 2007, we thought we’d share a little bit of how we spent our Christmas vacation.

On December 16th, Team Gaia and From Jacksonville With Love delivered donated toys to an orphanage in Hancock County, Mississippi. Normally, the area’s police and fire departments buy the toys, but as their resources and funds are still considerably strained from the Katrina disaster, relief organizations like FJWL stepped up to help bring some joy to the children in the holiday season.

We set up a pizza party for the orphans at a local Legion Hall and distributed hundreds of toys and gifts, which included – among other things – sports equipment, CD players, board games, dolls and educational materials. It was truly amazing to be a part of such a huge holiday celebration and to do what we could to help our friends in difficult times. Team Gaia member Will Livingston kept a trip journal that we’ve posted below. Enjoy!

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Day One – 15 December 2006

When I cannot devote at least seven hours to sleep a night, I become a massive diva. By no one’s fault but my own, I was only able to scrape a measly five hours of sleep the night before our departure. Knowing I was about to take a short jaunt across half of this great nation into the heartland of the American South (or the “Redneck Riviera” as it is affectionately dubbed), I was frantically running around preparing last-minute items for a three day outing. The journey itself was uneventful. On the way there, I managed to contort myself into so many shapes on my half of the motor home’s “dining room” table, that I am still suffering muscle aches.

Day Two – 16 December 2006

Upon our arrival in the early evening, we trekked our way from the hotel parking lot (can one call it a hotel if the first floor is dominated by a casino?) in the comfort of an air-conditioned bus. Having dressed in about nine layers, I was pleased we would not have to drag our luggage, tired teammates and other various assortments in the bitter cold and fog. I like the cold about as much as I like a vat of grease and lard.

Waveland, Mississippi could not have been more pleasant. It was a wonderful thing to have worked with such lovely people. My heart truly goes out to everyone who has suffered and lost at the hands of natural disaster. These strong people helped us coordinate an effort to bring toys to one hundred-and-forty foster children from around the area. Seeing the lights in some of the children’s eyes as they walked through the double doors into the American Legion meeting hall was a humbling moment for me personally. It was a stunning realization that these children have been left with nothing.

The thousands of dollars of toys we collected were put to excellent use. I walked kids from station to station (starting with Santa Claus!) where they would pick a few stuffed animals and books, onto more complex toys (like Barbie, art sets, sporting goods, and many more). Seeing the difference helped remind me of the spirit of the season and the good we can all do in the lives of others by doing something so easy as donating or volunteering.

After a physically exhausting day of unloading toys and arranging books, I was pleased to return to the hotel…but we weren’t going back to the hotel! Hi-ho, New Orleans! The nightlife on Bourbon Street really wasn’t designed with me in mind. Although I applaud the fine city of New Orleans for their lively entertainment, delicious food and unique culture, I propose the following: moderation!

Day Three – 17 December 2006

There’s no place like home! There’s no place like home!… Alright, you get the picture. What should have been an eight to nine hour drive became…well…much more than that. We stopped along the way for lunch, petrol (two or three times), and to tour the U.S.S. Alabama in Mobile. This was a fantastic reminder of the sacrifices America has made to preserve freedom (and I managed to score some fantastic souvenirs out of it). I could not have been more pleased to have done so much good in the lives of others, but it would have been really nice to have finished the book I was reading.

-Will Livingston