SIKESTON -- The Missouri Department of Transportation's annual chili dinner does more than provide a warm meal -- it warms the lives of many children.
The "Christmas Angels" program, which grants Christmas wishes for less fortunate families, is now in its 24th year. And members of the public can participate by placing an order for Thursday's lunch.
"With all the money we raise, we buy gifts for children in Scott and Mississippi counties," said Angie Fields, senior design technician who is helping to coordinate this year's program. "This year, we should be able to buy for 100 kids."
The chili meal includes a 16-ounce cup of chili and crackers. Cost is $3.50 per person. MoDOT delivers if five or more orders are placed, or the orders may be picked up at the MoDOT District Office in Sikeston.
"The program has grown locally and many businesses and organizations purchase chili dinners for employees," said Katherine Hixson, senior design technician who is also involved in coordinating the fundraiser.
About 1,500 cups of chili are sold each year, and over $3,000 was raised during the 2009 Christmas Angels Chili Dinner, said Fields. She noted that the fundraiser began with a "simple Crock Pot of chili for co-workers to share."
Now that the chili dinner has grown, it takes about 50 people -- retirees and current employees who use vacation time -- to prepare all that food and deliver it, she added.
"It's a lot of work," Fields said. "But it's worth it to make sure every kids that needs a little extra during the holidays gets what they want."
Children's names and wishes are provided by the Division of Family Services. Sharon Ray, circuit manager for the Division of Family Services' Sikeston office, said the help is definitely well-received.
"We all want them to have a good Christmas and know that the Christmas spirit is still alive," said Ray. "Other things in their lives may not be as perfect as they should be, so if we can help make some of their dreams come true, we should."
Ray noted that MoDOT's Christmas Angels Chili Dinner is just one of many campaigns aimed at making the holidays brighter for these children.
"With the economy this year, we're seeing more and more names -- people are just not able to buy," she said. "We absolutely work to make sure that every child we serve and have a name for gets something."
Ray continued: "These children are from the families we work with -- they are not foster children." She also noted that the Division works to ensure that a child's needs/wants are only passed along to one of the programs that help provide Christmas gifts for the children.
The deadline to place chili orders is 4 p.m. Tuesday. They may be made by emailing email@example.com, or calling Jo Ann Secoy, 472-5885, or Denice Hopper, 472-5325.