The holidays will be brighter for a record number of Barry County families this year thanks to the generosity of the 2007 Share Your Christmas campaign. The program served more people than it ever has this December with toys and clothes distributed to 130 families.
Gail Jenkins, director of the OACAC Barry County Neighborhood Center that coordinates the Share Your Christmas effort, said she was overwhelmed once again by the outpouring of support.
"This year's response was better than I expected considering the economy," said Jenkins. "This year we had more families and it always amazes me how people keep giving."
On Dec. 13, Share Your Christmas elves filled holiday wish lists for area children, filling up bags with toys for each child under the age of 12. Since the official toy distribution date, Jenkins said more toys have been dropped off at the Neighborhood Center and more children were able to receive Christmas gifts.
"It's just amazing to me the way it all just fits together each year," said Jenkins. "It's a process that involves so many people. Those who buy the toys, pack the toys, deliver the toys and those who buy the clothes and the churches that help us. It's just an amazing community process."
In addition to handing out toys, Share Your Christmas also buys an outfit for each child, 12 and under. Jenkins said $3,100 has been spent on new clothes. Older children receive vouchers that can be redeemed at Wal-Mart, Classy Review, Small Change or Surplus City. Infants receive baby clothes and quilts handcrafted by members of the Ozark Country Quilters.
"We help so many people and it means a lot to me to see our community do this and I think this is one of the great things about small communities like ours," Jenkins said. "I'm proud to be part of Share Your Christmas and to live in a community like this."
The 2007 Share Your Christmas Committee included: Bertie Bailey, Bobbie Tucker, Sylvia Sturgeon, Cheri Shumaker, Trish McCracken and Jenkins.
This year, 30 families also received food for the holidays. The Cassville American Legion Post adopted all 30 families and allowed them to shop for their own food at Ramey's this past Wednesday. Depending on the size of the family, adults were given $40 to $100 to buy the food items they wanted.
Jim Stephens heads up the Legion holiday food program each year. Legionnaires Pete Landstad and Bob Callahan assisted Stephens by overseeing the shopping at Ramey's.
"Everyone has been very grateful," said Landstad. "Jim (Stephens) told me that one woman he called broke down in tears when she was told she could shop for food. She told Jim she didn't know where her Christmas food was going to come from. Stories like that really make you feel good."
Money distributed for food by the Legion comes from the organization's proceeds from Saturday night bingo. According to Callahan, the Legion has paid out over $68,000 in charitable giving over the last four years due to the money it makes from bingo.
On Dec. 20, Share Your Christmas got another financial boost when Cassville High School presented the organization with $15,041.22, which had been raised through the campaigns of the high school's Mr. and Miss Merry Christmas candidates. Freshman Rylie Wilks and sophomore Mathew Angel were the top fundraisers and were crowned as Cassville's Christmas royalty.
"That's one of the highest amounts we've ever raised," said Julie Moore, sponsor of the CHS Student Council, which sponsors Mr. and Miss Merry Christmas activities.
Anyone who would still like to make a donation to Share Your Christmas can mail a check to: Share Your Christmas, 907 Main St., Cassville, MO 65625. For more information, call Jenkins at 847-2140.