By Emily Williams-Robertshaw
Hoover resident Doris Phillips and her husband, Glenn, spend the holidays giving to those without with the wish that it spreads hope during what can often be a difficult time of year.
Many holidays have been spent driving through rural areas near her husband’s hometown delivering food to people in need.
Over the years, the couple’s desire to give to those who do not have during the holidays has grown to offer the same opportunity for many others in the community.
The Circle of Love Foundation was established by the Phillipses in 2004 with just one donation box as the couple collected gifts for a handful of children in need at a local shelter.
Since then, the foundation has collected presents for thousands of children not only in Birmingham but surrounding communities and beyond.
“It’s rewarding, it’s amazing. I cry every year, without fail.
“I am a giver,” Phillips said. “I think that’s what feeds my soul. It’s my love language, if you will. I have almost 70 employees in this company (Lake House Realty) and I will still cook huge vats of food to bring to my team to feed them. It’s just within me to mother and give and take care of.”
Not only does she find that giving is in her spirit, giving to those in need is a reflection of her past. Phillips has a special connection in that she knows what it is like to be a child without Christmas.
One of seven children, Phillips has a sense memory of Christmas spent with the entire family living in a two-bedroom, one bath house. Her family moved around a lot, and she was always identified as “the poor kid.”
“When you’re young, you think your mom likes to move and when you get older, you realize that you just stay somewhere until you can’t stay anymore,” she said. “Then you quickly go to the next school and you’re the poor kid again and kids make fun of you.”
Holidays were always hard.
“Each year, we always give these shelters an extra large bag of items boy- and girl-related because families fall apart during the holidays under this pressure. … It’s a hard holiday even for the healthiest families. There’s so much pressure to be so perfect,” she said.
No Christmas for Her Family
In second grade, she pretended to be asleep when the teacher asked the class to stand up and say what they each got for Christmas.
“I did not want to reveal I was poor and Santa did not come to our house,” she said.
When the teacher finally called her name, she lied rather than sharing her family’s truth with the entire classroom.
The very next Christmas, the family was in the same situation, but on Christmas night, a group of men carrying boxes came to the house and handed Christmas presents to Phillips and her siblings.
“I was so happy to see the excitement these gifts brought to each of my siblings,” she said. “At that moment I knew this was a feeling I should have on Christmas and (it) replaced the emptiness we felt in previous years.”
It has inspired her mission each Christmas to give to those kids who would normally go without on Christmas Day and maybe spread a little hope in a hopeless time for many who are struggling.
“If you can touch a life this holiday season that wouldn’t have had without you, that’s the most important thing you can give regardless of all of the other gifts,” Dorris said. “It’s to show someone you believe in them.”
Each holiday season, the staff at Lake House Realty, where Phillips is chief operating officer, glows with the spirit of Christmas.
Last year, the Phillips were forced to reimagine the drive in a virtual format, yet they continued to gather van loads of presents and deliver Christmas joy to kids spending the holidays in local shelters, including Olivia’s House, Grace House, Jessie’s Place and others.
The office is ground zero for the annual toy drive, and Phillips and her staff are eager Christmas elves, only too happy to organize and pack all of the gifts before they make their way to the shelters.
Phillips said they give themselves a deadline of Dec. 6.
“If we take all of the boxes on Dec. 6, that gives us one week to sort and distribute and then a week to get the bags to the shelter and then it’s Christmas,” she said.
It’s a very calculated process, Phillips said, with gifts organized by age groups, gender and by shelter so that the kids in each shelter receive similarly priced items.
“If there are seven boys around the same age in the same shelter, we make sure that each of the boys get a different kind of ball or car,” she said. “Each girl gets a different kind of baby doll or game so they can share and they get their own and not just what everyone else got.”
This year’s drive will include a virtual option, with links to an Amazon wishlist of needed items. There will also be donation boxes with children’s wishlists located throughout the greater Birmingham area in more than 100 locations.
The campaign goal is to gather 2,400 new, unwrapped toys and to help 400 children in need.
For box locations, links to Amazon wishlists and more information, visit thecircleoflove.org.