A Georgia veterinarian has spent the past 14 years helping less fortunate families buy Christmas gifts for their children.
For Georgia veterinarian Vernard Hodges, DVM, giving back to the community is one of the greatest gifts he can give during the holiday season. Hodges, who knows firsthand what it’s like to grow up struggling and not have the things he wanted, says the veterinary profession has allowed him the opportunity to give back to those in need.
“I came from a background where I didn’t have a lot,” says Hodges, who practices at Critter Fixer Hospital in South Byron, Georgia, and costars on Nat Geo Wild’s Critter Fixers: Country Vets. “Veterinary medicine has provided me things and shown me things that I never would have experienced.”
In 2008, Hodges and his veterinary team began buying holiday gifts for less fortunate families in the area. They reached out to school counselors and principals, as well as the Department of Human Service Division of Family and Children Services, for names of children whose parents couldn’t afford basic necessities or gifts for Christmas. Every year, he and his staff purchased toys and clothes from Walmart, wrapped them, and invited families to the veterinary practice to eat breakfast, play games, and retrieve their gifts. Staff members also read “Twas the Night Before Christmas” to the kids.
Five years ago, Hodges decided to ramp up his community service efforts. He partnered with Kohl’s and now sponsors holiday shopping sprees for 30 families. Children can buy essentials like clothes and shoes as well nonessentials like toys and games. Each child receives $250 to spend on whatever they’d like. The goal, however, is to ensure they have necessities first.
“It almost brings tears to my eyes because you are in the store with these kids who probably wouldn’t ever have gotten anything, and they’re able to shop and get whatever they want. A lot of them have never been to a store before,” says Hodges. “It’s just building the community and showing them that somebody cares.”
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hodges was on the fence about participating this year, but he and his team decided to stagger the shopping times to accommodate social distancing and required all team members and shoppers to wear masks.
Watch the video below to hear more from Hodges about this special holiday tradition.