Lou Ann Powers had a burning desire to help young children when she first stepped into a classroom in 1961.

“Bless their hearts. Their clothes were dirty. They came hungry, and within a week I had I had food under my desk in boxes and every morning we had snacks. I went to the Baptist church and stood up and said ‘You don’t know me. I don’t know you. But I need help,” Powers said.

When she taught in Dresden, she began collecting Christmas presents in a closet. It started with $100 and four kids who needed Christmas gifts. It grew every year, and in 1995 Powers acquired a building to store donated toys and clothes.

Now, her nonprofit, Santa’s Helpers, provides clothing and food to people in need.

Powers retired from teaching in 2010, but runs Santa’s Helpers full-time. “There’s not a day that my back doesn’t hurt, my hips don’t hurt, my feet done hurt. But the more I’m up doing things, you kind of forget about the pain,” Powers added.

She spends her time paying bills, buying food, collection donations, and sorting through clothes. She says it’s what Jesus called us to do. “He doesn’t just say feed the little children. He says feed your neighbor and anybody that’s hungry.”

The organization provides a box of food once every three months for people in Weakley County who need it. There are exceptions though. If Powers sees an emergency situation outside the county or a family who needs food less than three months after their last pick-up, she’ll make sure they’re fed. Santa’s Helpers often feeds 300 to 400 people a month. “We have some really nice families that come here, and the reason they do is they just can’t make it on their own.”

It takes a lot of volunteers, a lot of giving from the community, and a lot of commitment from Powers. It’s worth it to her, and she says she doesn’t see retirement in her future. “You see people that never have a smile on their face, never. And you think, well you know, ‘If I could say one thing to make that person happy and put a smile on their face, I feel like I’ve done something that day.’”

You can donate food, clothes, or money to Santa’s Helpers. They’re open all year on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday from 1 p.m. 3:30 p.m.