Though Christmas comes just once a year, the spirit of the holiday stays with Mary McKinney year-round.
The fitness nutritionist, trainer and founder of Holy Yoga of Athens dedicates her time, talent and expertise to improving the physical and spiritual lives of her students while at the same time helping needy children.
She does this by offering yoga classes in exchange for small, new toy donations she gathers and uses to fill shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child, a program spearheaded by Samaritan's Purse International Relief organization.
The toys are combined with supplies like toothbrushes and bar soap and given to toddlers through teens around the world to show them they are loved, McKinney explained. She also includes a Bible story coloring book and crayons with each box.
McKinney, a mother of four and grandmother of two, became certified yoga instructor in 2009 and soon after started Holy Yoga of Athens. In 2011, she says she felt led to begin the service project. Since, she's seen class sizes grow and has even changed venues a few times to keep up with the demand. Currently there are five classes offered at Mars Hill Baptist Church that collectively draw in 50-60 students per week.
McKinney says she's received a lot of positive feedback about the program.
"In general, people want to reach out and help but don't know where to start," she said.
Holy Yoga offers that starting point. Many students choose to donate more than one toy --the suggested donation per class-- and also volunteer to stuff and wrap the shoe boxes.
Last year 162 shoe boxes were stuffed, far surpassing the goal of 50 McKinney had set. This year there are already 222 filled boxes and McKinney predicts the total will topple 400 by the end of October. However, each box must include $7 to cover the cost of shipping and so far enough cash has been raised to ship just 119 boxes.
Several area wellness and fitness businesses are working together to help raise the additional funds needed to covering the shipping of all of the boxes.
Healthsource of Oconee has donated 150 certificates for a 1/2 hour massage and chiropractic consultation which are being sold for $10 each by Holy Yoga throughout the month of October. They may be purchased from McKinney by mail or through the office of Mars Hill Baptist Church, and 100 percent of the sales go toward the shoe box shipping costs. Email McKinney at firstname.lastname@example.org. for more information.
Additionally, HealthSource of Oconee will join Tribe Fitness and Holy Yoga at Iris Place on Oct. 13 for a "Fit-a-thon." The event, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., will feature free yoga and fitness classes, stretching and massage therapy. Iris Place is chipping in by providing a barbecue lunch. Toy donations are requested for the programs and meal.
McKinney said it's shaping up to be a fun-filled day to the benefit of many.
"They'll not only be helping us fill more shoe boxes, but help a small child who doesn't have much in [his/her] life," McKinney said.
For a class schedule and more information about Holy Yoga of Athens, click here. Suggested items for shoe boxes and more details about Samaritan's Purse and Operation Christmas Child can be found at www.samaritanspurse.org/index.php/OCC/Pack_A_Shoe_Box/.
Holy Yoga will wrap up collections this year on the final day of October, then wrap shoe boxes in preparation to drop them off the week of Nov. 12 at Watkinsville First Baptist Church, one of the designated drop-off locations.