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This time of year, many people are working tirelessly to put together toy collections, food baskets and holiday meals – but you may not realize how many different organizations and individuals work behind the scenes to make those activities possible.
Whether it is collecting toys, buying clothes, taking in money or simply working to package and distribute all the needs during the holiday season, there is much work to be done in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Bonnie Roberts, chair of the Shelby County Salvation Army, the main coordinator of holiday charitable events, said her group works with hundreds of volunteers each holiday season, encompassing churches, businesses, schools, civic organizations and others.
“We’ve got bell ringers, we’ve got people working with Angel Tree, both high schools are doing toy drives, Kiwanis and Rotary they’re helping, it’s just a real big community effort,” she said.
You likely associate the bell ringers with the Salvation Army, but not many know that activity is a major fundraiser for not just the holidays, Roberts said.
“We start [bell ringing] the day after Thanksgiving and go until Christmas Eve, and we use that money all through the year for people in need, from everything from groceries to medicine to help with utility bills and school clothes for children,” she said.
Roberts said that in Shelby County, the kettles bring in about $20,000 a year.
Ringers are stationed at Kroger and Walmart stores mostly, on Thursday, Friday and Saturdays – it takes 36 ringers per day on the weekends and 12 per day on Thursdays, she said.
Roberts said that bell ringers are mostly recruited through area churches.
“We send letters out in October to most churches, and we have a lot of churches signed up,” she said. “We have enough bell ringers for most everything, except for Christmas Eve, that is the hardest time for us. The Presbyterian Church is doing Kroger, but we don’t have anyone for Walmart yet.”
Kamron Terry, president-elect of the Shelbyville Rotary Club, said members always participate in bell ringing.
“We take hour shifts,” he said. Rotary also holds an annual pancake breakfast, coming up soon, to raise money for Christmas food baskets.
Many organizations have toy drives, including churches, civic groups and law enforcement agencies. These groups include the Shelby County Lions Club, ROTC groups from both high schools and the Shelbyville Fire Department.
Jason Rice, who, along with Eric Hettinger, helps head up the Shelby County Sheriff Office’s Shop with a Cop Program, said that there’s no shortage of volunteers for that event, targeted toward providing children in need with a toy at Christmas.
“A vast majority of us, I would say that nearly all of our guys have helped at some point, and the city of Shelbyville also has a big showing,” he said. “Constables even come out and help, and deputy jailers.
“We’re very fortunate here; we usually have about thirty plus that show up to help out. Sometimes we have other groups that come out and help, even athletic teams; one time we even had a boy’s basketball team to come out and wrap presents. It’s an awesome thing.”
Rice speculated that law enforcement and rescue personnel are so passionate about toy drives because they often see a side of society that most people don’t.
“Throughout the year, on our routine calls, we go into a lot of homes and see first hand the living conditions of some of these kids,” he said. “Sometimes the parents of some of these kids just simply can’t afford it, or sometimes there’s substance abuse issues. They just don’t plan ahead; it’s not that they don’t love their kids; it just makes them lose focus on what’s important. Also, a lot of us have kids of our own, and we just want other kids to have a decent Christmas like our own kids have. And really, police officers and firefighters, they just care about people, that’s why we do what we do.”
Patrick Donahoe, a Fraternal Order of Police member at the Shelbyville Police Department, said the same. “We usually have about eighty percent participation,” he said. “This has been a banner year, with one-hundred percent.”
Angel Tree successes
The Angel Tree program, also run by the Salvation Army in conjunction with Operation Care, is part of the toy-collection process, and Roberts said that First Christian Church has been a big help and that 775 out of 875 children already have been taken accommodated this Christmas. First Christian Church has collected gifts for 75 angels, she said.
“And the mayor and the staff at city hall, they have been very generous in allowing us to store the gifts in the basement at city hall,” she said. “Every year, we take over the basement of city hall. There are gifts and toys everywhere down there.”
About 10 volunteers take care of that activity, she said.
The Angel Tree is located at Walmart. To adopt an “angel,” take a name from the tree and shop for that child, then turn the gifts in to customer service, and the store will put them aside for volunteers to collect.
Food baskets are also a part of the Angel Tree package, and officials at First Baptist said their Outreach Committee raised more than $4,000 this year for that purpose, an activity that many churches around the county are participating in. Lois Lenz at First Baptist said that about 25 church members work on the project each year.
“They start in about mid-November and work for about a month on it,” she said.
TO SIGN UP FOR BELL RINGING: Call Jim Swiggert at 647-0334.
TO ADOPT AN ANGEL:Choose a child’s name at Walmart and buy gifts.
COMMUNITY CHRISTMAS:To donate toys, toiletries or money, call 502-418-7209.