The gift of giving a family tradition for Beaumont philanthropist.
Getting ready for Christmas is different for the family of Reaud Charitable Foundation. Every year, Beaumont attorney and philanthropist Wayne A. Reaud undertakes the massive task of bringing joy and presents to 1,000 children in Southeast Texas. He tasks his brother Jon to facilitate. It’s a mission he says “he was called to do” over 20 years ago – and a global pandemic was no match for God’s will.
“Bicycles and Bibles,” as the annual event is dubbed, obviously lives up to its name with gifting each of the 1,000 children who receive a certificate to the annual event both – but, there’s so much more in store for the bright-eyed recipients. Each participating child receives about $2,000 worth of items. In addition to a new Mongoose bicycle and a storybook Bible, each received a new winter coat, tennis shoes, wind suits, backpacks, clothing, footballs, basketballs, soccer balls and candy galore.
“Since the holiday program began in 1999, the foundation has given away over 25,000 bicycles and Bibles to children who otherwise would not have a Christmas at all,” said Reaud Charitable Foundation Executive Director Jon Reaud, who said his brother started the annual event as a way for he and his family to give back to the Southeast Texas community where he was raised.
Wayne Reaud said he remembers the day he received his first bicycle and how proud he was of the new gift. He treasured it and said that he meditated on the goodness of the Lord to him and his family and the thought came to him to share bicycles and Bibles with boys and girls all across the area.
He often mentions his own mom, Gena Reaud, who passed away in March 2013, as the one he credits with helping to guide him and his brother in the ways of the Lord.
“She helped teach us compassion for others,” Wayne Reaud said. “Her teaching set the foundation from which this program sprang. I believe that if we can teach a child that the fundamentals needed for life are founded in the Word of God, he or she can formulate a code to live by each and every day.”
Jon Reaud, who manages the holiday affair, starts making Christmas preparations in February. It takes a lot of work to make Christmas happen for 1,000 kids every year – but it’s a labor of love Jon said he is happy and proud to be a part of.
“I do this every year, and it’s always a blessing my brother and I are happy to be involved in,” Jon said. “We didn’t want COVID to stop it this year. That would be 1,000 less children who would get presents for Christmas.”
In years past, the event served a massive party for the children selected to received the Bicycles and Bibles gifts, with the recipients’ families likewise invited to participate in the pre-gifting celebration that featured cotton candy machines and ice cream, popcorn and Chick-fil-A, pizza and burritos, clowns and puppets, and more fun than can almost be imagined for a single day’s excursion. Unfortunately, thanks to COVID, the Dec. 12 iteration for 2020 was unable to include the former iteration of pre-pandemic camaraderie and playful togetherness afforded.
Fortunately, Wayne Reaud and brother Jon were able to facilitate the holiday giveaway with social distancing guidelines currently in place to promote safety and still show 1,000 children in the Golden Triangle a whole lot of Christmas cheer. Overall, the event looked different – but the palpable excitement of those receiving the mountain of gifts remained unchanged.
“The workshop” looked different this year, too. The normal assemblage of volunteers scattered throughout the Ford Park Arena at stations that formerly included face painting and balloon animals now converged on operations that included judicious sanitization and filling huge bags with Christmas loot for each individual recipient. Fifty-plus volunteers from Young Life and the YMBL spent hours lining the football field-length staging area days before the children were set to arrive. One by one, the volunteers each toted the huge bag that would hold upwards of $2,000 worth of presents for their ticket-holding boy or girl. Filled to the brim with an inscribed children’s Bible, Nike shoes, clothes, pro sized balls of all sorts, candy, toys and a whole lot of love, the bags were aligned with precision while awaiting their child’s arrival – the bagger free to begin the process again and again until all 1,000 Christmases were packaged and ready to go.
Those collecting the Christmas cheer needed a Santa-sized sleigh ride to haul away the generously portioned presents. In addition to an industrial-sized bag of gifts, a bicycle and protective gear, each family was also gifted a box of fresh fruits and veggies, along with everything needed for a Christmas turkey dinner.
“You can’t put five bicycles in a sedan,” Jon half-joked during preparation. All families with more than three children receiving gifts were called in advance and advised to bring a truck, U-Haul, cargo van, lowboy or some form of vehicle that could accommodate a large load. “We’re putting a lot of stuff in their vehicle in addition to the bikes, too, so it wouldn’t fit in, say, a VW Beetle.”
Five State Troopers afforded through Lt. Chuck Havard and 21 Beaumont police officers manned security posts, and assured a safe and secure event. As per instructions provided to recipients when notified of their inclusion as Reaud Charitable Foundation Christmas giftees, all efforts were made to keep the gift-giving event as hands-free and socially distant as possible.
“From the time they drive up, we ask them to not even roll down the window to check in,” Jon explained. Certificate numbers were engraved large enough to be seen through vehicle windows, and once the volunteer at the gate noted the number, the vehicle was free to proceed down a charted path with goodies and gifts around every corner.
The first stop in the procession afforded food for everyone in the vehicle.
Pizzas, drinks and fajitas secured, guests were en route to the second stop on the path – bicycle and present loading.
To keep the line manageable, Bicycles and Bibles organizers staggered arrival times – 200 per hour for five hours. Thanks to strategy, “circus master” Randy Morgan, mass prep and a cadre of volunteers on site the day of the event, lines were kept to a minimum and moved along briskly and easily.
Right before leaving the Ford Park complex where the event was held, each vehicle was loaded down with their boxes of groceries and a turkey for Christmas dinner.
The Reaud Charitable Foundation, for decades, has always ensured a hot meal (or two or three for those who arrive extra hungry) for every attendee at the Bicycles and Bibles events, and, although the smorgasbord and accompanying festive communal celebration was canceled by COVID, Wayne Reaud and his family were committed to a calling modeled after one of Jesus’ commandments.
“The inspiration for the annual Christmas program came from the scripture in John 21 when Jesus told his disciple Peter, ‘If you love me, feed my sheep.’ Every year the event has grown and now the foundation additionally is providing bicycles and all the other gifts to the local girls home, boys home and Buckner orphanage in Beaumont,” Wayne Reaud explained when announcing the event. “The United States is still the greatest nation on Earth and, when times get hard, we pull together and overcome the worst of circumstances through the best of mankind.”
Even days after the Dec. 12 Bicycles and Bibles event, the Reaud family was still out feeding Jesus’ sheep. Christmas dinners with 16-pound turkeys and all the trimmings were gifted to another 500 families in need, and upwards of 100 children of Port Arthur ISD and Buckner’s Children’s Home were presented bicycles and bags full of Christmas loot.
“It was a totally successful year,” Jon said. “In spite of COVID, we were still able to reach out in our community to children who are less fortunate.
“God worked it out.”
Over the last 21 years, more than 25,000 bicycles and accompanying gifts have been given to Southeast Texas children who may not otherwise have had gifts under the tree.
“My brother Wayne wants these kids to have a wonderful Christmas, although he’s the last one to want to take credit for anything, ” Jon said. “We don’t just hope for it, though; we work to make it happen as best we can.
“Our prayer is that other people all over the U.S. – all over the world – will really take a look at their resources and see what they can do to help others, too.”