Social Eyes by Faye Reeder

Eyes on Arlington: Longtime Arlington Charities director honored at retirement

Melanie Gibson, front row, left, at her retirement party in December.
Melanie Gibson, front row, left, at her retirement party in December. Courtesy photo

Happy Wednesday, Arlington community lovers! Faye is out this week working on a special project. In the meanwhile, Eyes on Arlington takes a brief look back at an important chapter of one of our community’s best-kept secrets — and one of our most remarkable organizations:

Twenty years of ‘little miracles’

Longtime Arlington Charities exec feted at reception

It was a quiet afternoon — Christmas Eve, in fact — when a tired, harried woman poked her head into the Arlington Charities food pantry in south Arlington and asked if the facility was still open.

“Things had really slowed down so I let the staff go home,” recalled Melanie Gibson, who worked at Arlington Charities from 1995 to 2015, serving for most of those years as the group’s executive director. “But instead of closing up entirely, something made me decide to stay for a while.”

When Gibson confirmed that the pantry was indeed open, the woman “threw herself” at Gibson and began hugging her.

“She said she didn’t have a thing for Christmas and hadn’t been able to get here sooner because of work,” explained Gibson. “Then she said, ‘If you can spare a few items, I can at least cook a nice meal for my daughter for Christmas.’ Needless to say, I made sure that she left with a car full of stuff.”

Two decades of those kinds of “little miracles,” as Gibson likes to call them, were celebrated last week at Odis Pharr Community Center in Pantego at a reception honoring Gibson’s December retirement. In attendance were a number of the tiny-but-mighty charity’s supporters, including John David Moritz, who serves as the group’s honorary president; Mike Stumbaugh, the organization’s president; Nancy Tice (of the Pantego Lion’s Club, which presented a $4,000 check to Arlington Charities in recognition of Gibson’s years of service); Barbara Ewen (Tarrant Area Food Bank) and Deborah Coppola, who assumed leadership of Arlington Charities after Gibson’s retirement.

“Deborah’s extremely capable,” said Gibson. “She’s going to be a wonderful change for the organization.”

Arlington Charities has provided clothing, school supplies, baby supplies, household goods, lunches for the homeless and much more for area residents in need since the late 1970s.

Among the milestones of Gibson’s tenure was the organization’s shift to an appointment-based, shopping-style food pantry experience for clients, a move designed to increase efficiency and preserve client dignity. “We were uncertain about making the changes, but in the end they worked out beautifully,” said Gibson.

About 55,000 people come through the door each year, a figure that Gibson has seen swell under her administration. “When I first came on board, we served maybe 12 or 13 families a day,” Gibson said. “Now we see at least 55 a day. We’re a no-frills operation, flying under the radar but doing our thing every week.”

No doubt the charity’s 100-plus volunteers, generous donors and her friends on the staff will always have a special place in Gibson’s heart. But as she looks back on her Arlington Charities tenure in the years to come, it will probably be the hundreds of “little miracles” that she thinks about the most.

Like that time when a two-seated stroller “just suddenly seemed to appear” in the pantry’s supply room, right after a panicked 19-year-old-man with a newborn twin under each arm walked in asking for help.

Or that time when Gibson was faced with a huge shortfall of turkeys on the eve of the pantry’s scheduled Thanksgiving dinner distribution. Out of the blue, a truck from Business Interiors rolled up, loaded with dozens of turkeys the company’s employees had decided to donate at the last minute.

“It’s been a wonderful experience,” said Gibson. “I’m so grateful to all of the people who have supported Arlington Charities, and I encourage the entire community to keep it up.”

Must love s’mores

Tents and Tales is looking for lots of campers and a few campy volunteers

Spring is just around the corner, which means it’s almost time for the popular Tents and Tales campout, sponsored by Arlington Parks and Recreation and hosted by River Legacy Parks.

The family-friendly event, set for April 1-2, will feature a hot dog dinner, a s’mores smorgasbord (of course!), a good old-fashioned ’round-the-campfire singalong, and a movie under the stars (Hotel Transylvania 2). Campers will also have the chance to do crafts and a bit of animal exploration with the River Legacy hosts, as well as enjoy a sleeping bag story time.

If you’re an outdoorsy type who can lend a hand with tent pitching, fire building or crafts, the folks at River Legacy would like to hear from you. Volunteer shifts run from around 3:30 to 8:30 p.m. April 1.

Find out more: Volunteers, you need to visit and select the “volunteer” tab on the left, or call 817-860-6752. Campers, save your spot at Tents and Tales by calling 817-459-6434. Admission is $10 per camper.

Just call them prom fairy godmothers

Junior League’s Glass Slipper Boutique needs help keeping prom accessible for girls in need

When we look back on senior prom, the only thing that most of us had to worry about was getting a date. (In my case, I also had to worry about whether or not the beauty supply stores would have enough hairspray to support the huge late ’80s styles sported by me and my friends.)

For young ladies who come from disadvantaged homes, they’ve got the added stress of figuring out how to pay for the beautiful dress, not to mention all of prom’s other necessities.

Enter the Junior League of Arlington, led by Emily Swanson, and the organization’s Glass Slipper Boutique, which provides free dresses and other prom-related items and services to Arlington-area girls in need.

“It’s an amazing event that has served about 700 girls since we started in 2008,” said Loriel Fisher, who chairs the 2016 boutique along with Julia Bessler. “Besides dresses, we need donations of shoes of all sizes, jewelry, purses and shawls and other accessories, as well as donated services like makeup, manicures and transportation.”

Want to help? Bring gently used formal dresses, jewelry, shoes and more to Blue Mesa Grill (550 Lincoln Square Drive) from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Monday or to The Melting Pot (4000 Five Points Blvd.) on from 5 to 9 p.m. March 3. You can also bring your donation by the Junior League’s headquarters (4002 W. Pioneer Parkway) weekdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Contact to find out more.

At a glance

▪ Arlington Community Band Concert: Pentatonix members aren’t the only gifted musicians hailing from the American Dream City. There’s also the talented Arlington Community Band, and you can catch its act at 7 p.m. Saturday at Seguin High School (7001 Silo Road). Director: Rick Baker. Call 817-467-0158 to learn more.

▪ Parade theme announced: The Arlington 4th of July Association will dedicate this year’s parade to “those who keep Arlington beautiful,” in alignment with the 2016 theme, “America the Beautiful.” I’m pretty sure they’re talking about Arlington’s legion of dedicated community volunteers, not our community of local hairdressers, so you can look forward to some especially inspirational parade entries this year. Speaking of entries, the parade association will begin taking float applications Tuesday. Hairdressers, community volunteers and everyone else can visit to find out more.

▪ Back the Blue Bash: The Arlington Police Foundation, which provides funding for essential but nonbudgeted equipment, training and other resource items for the Arlington Police Department, as well as financial assistance to families of officers killed in the line of duty, will host a party and fundraiser featuring plenty of grub, lots of cover band dancing and tons of fun. Details: 6:30 p.m. March 4 at the Arlington Convention Center (1200 Ballpark Way). Tickets: $10 and up. Dress: Casual. Find out more:

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