January 10, 2014
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Little girls from a local family receive “Secret Santa” gift from associates of Winn-Dixie No. 1559 in Franklin, La. Associates are, from left, Meat Associate Cathy Ortego, Center Store Lead Charles Landry (Santa), Receiving Lead Vanessa Pontiff, Floral Lead Kelly Jennings, Service Associate Denise Johnson (green shirt), Center Store Associate Theresa Patingo and Seafood Lead Brendy Sauce.​

Franklin, Louisiana is a small, tight-knit community in Southern Louisiana, but its residents have the advantage of knowing when neighbors need help.

And when the associates of Winn-Dixie store No. 1559 heard that circumstances had suddenly thrown three small girls into the care of their grandmother, they quickly worked to make their Christmas just a little bit better.

“It’s a small town we’re in,” Store No. 1559 Director Shayne Hall said. “Everybody knows everybody. In early December, we started to raise funds and talk at our meetings. It was word of mouth in the store. We also had some funds donated from our asset protection specialist and a couple of customers. One anonymous source donated $100.”

And soon the store’s associates were the family’s “Secret Santa,” buying gifts for the three girls and a fourth also in the grandmother’s care. The associates, led by Meat Associate Cathy Ortego, Receiving Lead Vanessa Pontiff, Floral Lead Kelly Jennings, Service Associate Denise Johnson, Center Store Associate Theresa Patingo and Seafood Lead Brendy Sauce, raised about $500 in monetary contributions and even more in toy donations. One associate delivered a shopping cart full of toys, Hall said.

The family, with more than 10 extended family members, came to the store on Christmas Eve, where the girls saw Center Store Lead Charles Landry dressed as Santa, who surprised them with dozens of presents. The grandmother received a $100 VISA card and a $20 Winn-Dixie gift card.

Many passing customers were very impressed with what they saw, Hall said.

“It was really awesome for the associates, to see the tears of joy from the whole family,” Hall said. “The customers saw our involvement in our community. This was very impactful.”

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