Community shares its time, Christmas with local youth
Share Your Christmas benefits more than 360 children
Thanks to the joint efforts of local businesses, individuals, schools, banks, churches, employers and the community at large, Christmas will be generously shared with about 368 Barry County children this year.
"We're kind of the central point for the program here," said Gail Reed, OACAC Neighborhood Center supervisor for the county. "We serve all the kids in Barry County, except Monett and Shell Knob, because they have their own programs. It's just a group of people from Barry County that have been helping."
Reed said the program has been providing Christmas presents for local children and families in need during the holiday at least 40 years, that she is aware of.
"We sign up kids through OACAC," she said. "Families come in and verify address and income to qualify, then we put ornaments out in businesses of the things kids want. For kids 13 and up, parents are given vouchers so they can get what they really want, and, they get a voucher to buy clothes, whereas ages 13 and under get toys. There are ornaments out on the trees, but a lot of different organizations donate so we get toys from a lot of places. Or, people can adopt a family."
One leg of the program works by putting ornaments on trees in local businesses bearing a child's name and wish list, then individuals choose one.
"The schools cut [the ornaments] out for us, and as the kids sign up, we have a volunteer that writes girl, 10, Frozen items, boy, 6, Legos, etc., so we write specific wants for the child," Reed said. "There are also games and movies that can be used as a gift for the family itself."
This year, 138 families, including 368 children, were served, Reed said.
Another way the program supplies Christmas gifts are through toy drives or special events hosted by local businesses.
"Herrin Animal Hospital is the only business who does a toy drive," Reed said. "The Republican Club does one every year, and different churches and businesses take the ornaments. Then, we start picking up toys in the community and businesses and take them to the United Methodist Church and pack for each family. It's like a big 'ole toy store. It's so cool to see all those toys. It's just an amazing thing."
Sometimes, Reed said, the center will hear from an organization out of the blue informing them they are bringing toys, so donations come from all over, and in unexpected ways.
"It's a pretty amazing process of generosity," she said. "It's like a puzzle. Everybody has a part they play, and it all comes together. And, on Dec. 16, there will be over 360 kids that will have parents pick up toys."
Bobbie Tucker, who has been volunteering for the Christmas program for many years, does a little bit of everything, including organizing toys and helping volunteers carry out their duties.
"It's wonderful," she said. "It's a lot of community effort."
On Dec. 15, men who volunteer went out to all of the businesses to collect the toys, then brought them back to the United Methodist Church in Cassville, where the women busied themselves like elves in a large room, matching up toys with wish lists to prepare them to be picked up the next day.
Barbara Stillings is in her second year of volunteering for the program.
"I'm proud to be from a community that would do this every year," she said. "There is a lot of money that goes into this."
"It is very rewarding to see the community come together," said Bertie Bailey, who has also been volunteering for the program for many years. "Mr. and Miss Merry Christmas are the biggest fundraiser that we have, where they go out and get donations for toys from the community."
The contest is a community tradition in which male and female candidates who collect the most money are crowned Mr. and Miss Merry Christmas. The contest also gives students an opportunity to work with businesses and organizations to give back to the community.
Trish McCracken has been sharing a little of her time the last few years, along with her Christmas, for the program as well.
"I'm there every year, and when they need batteries or tape or another gift, I go get it for them," she said. "It takes everybody. We put all the gifts on different tables.
"The entire United Methodist Church is full of toys, and we get our papers and collect the toys and put them in a large bag. It's very rewarding. I think it's a great organization, and you want every child to be happy at Christmas. It's amazing how much the community comes together and gives for needy children. The men in the community go around in trucks and gather up all these toys and play Santa and bring these toys to UMC."
"All the funds that are raised help come back to help offset the cost of vouchers, so if kids don't get toys they ask for, we go buy them," Reed said. "They do their best to make sure they get the kids what they've asked for. The parents are thrilled. They come back and thank us later. You fine tune it every year and it's had many different forums through the years.
"I never dreamed 26 years ago when I used to read about it in the paper I would be involved in it. It's nice to know that kids are going to have Christmas."