As a radio host in the 1980s, Mason Dixon would bring people on the air and make their Christmas wishes come true. • At that time, it was more of a contest or promotion, but he wanted to do it differently. So in the 1990s, Dixon, now the host of Mason Dixon in the Morning on Q105, and his wife, Pat Crawford, turned it into something else: a way to give back to the community. • They started Mason Dixon's Christmas Wish Fund, calling for donations from the community to help fulfill the Christmas wishes of local needy families. • They started with $1,500 in seed money. At the peak one year, they raised $180,000. • "After 2008, obviously like everything else we took a step back," he said. "We have been in the $80,000 to $100,000 or just slightly over range still, even through a tough economy pretty much every year." • Dixon grew up listening to radio legends in Memphis. He remembers when his parents got him his first transistor radio. • "I had that radio with me everywhere," he said. "I made a little bracket on my bicycle so I could listen to the radio riding around." • After radio jobs in Mississippi, Connecticut, Tennessee and California, he had a chance to come to Tampa, where he and Pat have lived since 1978. Their daughters, Alicia Crawford Elliott, 31, and Brandi Crawford Kenny, 27, both still live in the area. • "Q105 was so big in the '80s, all of us there had offers to go anywhere, L.A., New York, Atlanta," he said. "We said, 'We're doing what we want to do and that's letting the kids grow up here.' " • The Christmas Wish Fund has been a major part of the family's life in Tampa. Dixon recently spoke with Times staff writer Keeley Sheehan about how the Christmas Wish Fund has grown over the years and what it's like to see the community reach out to those in need around the holidays.
The Christmas Wish Fund has been active for a number of years. How has it progressed over the years?
We started back in the mid 1990s with it and it has progressed from there. The biggest gains came after we made it a 501(c)(3), and we got all that done thanks to the late Bill Young's help. We had several corporate sponsors who wanted to come on board, and the first thing they're thinking is, can we write this off? So we needed to be a 501(c)(3) to make progress. We filed the paperwork and found out it could be three months, six months or longer. We went to Bill Young. He was part of that committee. They ran it right through, and we had it in 90 days.
The best estimate on dollars raised since we started this is over a million and a half dollars. The great part about what we do is it's an all-volunteer charity. Nobody gets paid, there are no salaries, we try to put everything that comes in back out. There are some expenses if we have to buy T-shirts in advance, but it always covers itself and we tend to run very good that way. My wife and I, it's our way of giving back to a community that for almost 35 years has given so much to us.
How is this year going?
So far, very well. We have at last check, Pat said, just up over the $80,000 mark. Things are still continuing to come in and it looks like we'll get real close to, if not hit, the $100,000 mark this year. We're tickled to death folks are opening up their hearts and opening up their wallets. As fast as it comes in, we keep getting letters from the website and putting it out. We have a great relationship with family services from MacDill. They provide us with families they've selected that seem to be hard cases that need some help, young families, living off a military salary. Whatever the case may be, these are the biggest hardship cases they have. We also have a great relationship with a homeless women's veterans association. There is an amazing batch of women who are a part of the military and have fallen on hard times and for whatever reason are struggling. We get information from them as well as letters from listeners and folks in the community that go through the website.
Why do you think it's important to help families in need?
If folks would have a chance to sit down and read these letters that come in, either about a family or a family writing about themselves, if they spent as much time as my wife does — and she reads every single letter that comes through each year — you can see those letters and see the need that is out there.
It's families that due to medical reasons have got bills to pay and Christmas is the last thing on their list, except they would like to have it for the kids. Or grandparents that have to be parents again, taking care of their kids' kids for whatever reason. These are folks on a fixed income trying to make it work. Once we find out about them, we're able to help them.
What is it like for you to see people come together to help others in the community?
It's a very heartwarming thing. Yesterday we received almost $4,000 in donations in the mail, and almost $2,000 the day before. I was talking to Pat, sitting here going through the letters and doling it out, you have to stop and think about this, the reputation you have, the integrity you have when people will trust to send you whether it's $20 or $2,000. If they will put that check in the mail and send that to you, they trust you and know you're going to do the right thing with it. It really gets heartwarming when you realize people have that much trust in you. As we go through letters and letters, Pat has very little time to start doing Christmas wishes for our own family. But she's such an amazing woman, she gets it done. When we get to Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, regardless of what we've done for each other and the kids as they come back over to the house and gather around, we can say, you know what? This year we made a difference. It's been that way for so many years, we've made a difference regardless of what we're doing at our house. That makes Christmas for us.
Sunday conversation is edited for clarity and brevity.