Christmas drive needs more ‘Santas’

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Former Christmas at Claudias finding fewer sponsor to help buy gifts for 989 needy children.

By Lisa King

Christmas – that magical time of year that children dream of all year long – is just around the corner, and some charitable organizations are struggling to come up with enough money to make sure that children around the county will have a gift on Christmas morning.

Officials of one event that has been instrumental in providing gifts for children in need during the past decade said that funds are down by 50 percent this year, a situation that means that some children who received gifts last year may not receive anything this year unless more donations come in.

“We do have all the blankets purchased, but we’re only at about fifty percent of the toys,” said Louise Riley, organizer of Community Christmas, formerly known as Christmas at Claudia’s. “We might have to cut some of the families out, because when we have donations come in, we try to complete them as families.”

The event, scheduled for 5 to 7 p.m. Dec. 17 moved last year to Shelby Industries last year after

 management at Claudia Sanders Dinner House became unable to continue to host.

The event no longer offers a meal but consists of two drive-through lines at the plant, located at 175 McDaniels Road, off Pearce Industrial Road.

But the goal is still the same, Riley said: to provide a gift package consisting of blankets, socks, gloves, a scarf and hat, and toiletry and hygienic items, such as toothbrushes, paste and soap, along with a toy.

Riley said that the event used to have 30 sponsors, but now that number is down to a handful.

“I don’t know if it was because of the name change,” she said. “I did draft letters to some of the businesses, and then we had people follow up.

“I just think that money’s really tight. Even though we’re slowly digging out of the recession, there are layoffs; businesses are closing. As a whole, people have less, but that really affects people who had less to begin with.”

Riley said that more donations are needed to serve the 989 children whose names are on the list this year, the same number as last year.

“We really need some donations to complete the purchasing of some toys and the hats and gloves and mittens,” she said. “We want to have good quality toys and items for all the kids, so we’re just hoping that people will realize that Community Christmas is [the same as] Christmas at Claudia’s and that our goals are the same.”

Riley said she would like to have several more corporate sponsors, in addition to the small businesses, churches and individuals helping out now.

“Ideally, I would like corporate sponsors and then individual groups and churches, and if they did toy drives, that would be great, too,” she said. “But every little bit helps, because it reaches every corner of the county.”


Community effort

Riley said most of the same entities are still working together to put on the event.

“Shelby Industries, it will be their third year partnering with us [the company previously provided a place to store and package gifts], Shelby OVEC and Operation Care,” she said. “All the players are basically the same. We just lost a lot of our sponsors.”

Ann Morris, one of the primary volunteers who helps to coordinate the event, said that even though the setting is not as festive as it was at Claudia’s, there will still be plenty of holiday cheer.

“There will be carolers and elves and Santa, so your time in line at Shelby Industries will at least not be boring,” she said with a chuckle. “We have already prepackaged all of the gifts by age and by gender. Your invitation will say, ‘I have this many children; these are their ages.’ And then we will then go to the appropriate line, get those gifts, bring them right back out and take them to the parents.”

Morris has been instrumental in working closely with local businesses, to get toys at reduced prices and even a candy drive to provide a sweet treat for each child.

OVEC employee Becky Brewer does her part by coordinating the list of children who are to receive a gift, Morris said.

“Without her help, we probably couldn’t do this,” she said. “She helps coordinate the entire list. She puts everybody in the right age group and has that count for us. She gets the letters ready to send, she sends the invitations, she coordinates volunteers.”


‘Very important event’

Brewer said the event is very important for families for, whatever reason, did not get a chance to participate in other charitable programs.

“It’s just an opportunity for families who are down on their luck right now to have that little bit of extra Christmas spirit by having a blanket and a hygiene bag, and a toy for their child, that maybe for some reason didn’t qualify or didn’t get to sign up for [a gift from] Salvation Army,” she said. “It just promotes the spirit of giving and makes people feel good about themselves, even if just for a little while.”

It’s Brewer’s sixth year in this role – she was a part-time volunteer before – and the entire process really begins with her efforts.

“I’ve been doing the applications through the school system for the past several years,” she said. “I work for OVEC Headstart, so I’m able to process all those applications through my office.  I count them, as far as how many boys and how many girls and what age groups, and I have my own group of volunteers who get all the postcards that we mail out to all the families in advance to remind them of the event.

Another entity that has been involved since the beginning – and is indispensable – is Operation Care, Morris said.

“We run our money through their 5013C; he [Executive Director Jeff Johnson] is our bookkeeper,” she said, laughing.

Johnson said that he thinks that renaming the event and calling it a “community” Christmas is very appropriate, because it takes a monumental team effort to pull it all together.

“Everybody works together,” he said.  “Businesses provide funding for the gifts; we [Operation Care] go out and pick up the toys and take them over to Shelby Industries, who provides a place to have it. Without all of these good folks, we couldn’t pull this off. I think this is a very important event, because a lot of these children otherwise would probably not get anything at all.”


Community Christmas

WHAT: Toy, gift program for 989 children

WHEN:5-7 p.m., Dec. 17

WHERE:Shelby Industries, 175 McDaniels Road in Pearce Industrial Park

HOW TO DONATE:Make checks payable to Operation Care; indicate it is for Community Christmas

MORE INFO:Contact Louise Riley at 502-418-7209