JCP Christmas Box calling on churches to help hamper holiday hunger

Sue Guinn Legg • May 25, 2014 at 9:43 PM

The Johnson City Press Christmas Box is reaching out to area churches with an opportunity to allow children who take part in their annual Vacation Bible Schools to help provide food for Christmas to other children in their communities who are at risk of being without.

Last year, the 33rd annual Christmas Box project provided the makings of a traditional Christmas dinner to the families of each of 2,827 children in Washington, Carter and Unicoi counties who received gifts from the Salvation Army Angel Tree, food shopping gift certificates to several hundred low-income seniors in the three-county area and 600 hams to families included in other Christmas food distributions in Johnson and Carter counties.

All total, the 2013 Christmas Box assisted 1,965 area households, or an estimated 6,000 people in need. The cost of the food came in at just over $76,000. And when the final numbers were tallied, community donations to the project fell more than $18,000 short of the cost of the food.

While reserve funds were available to cover the shortfall, as the Christmas Box begins preparations for its 2014 holiday food distribution without the cushion those reserves provided, it will be stepping up its outreach for the community’s help.

Martha Laws, a Christmas Box board member who last year garnered unprecedented financial support for the project from Carter County’s churches and civic organizations, is once again leading the fundraising with an appeal to area Bible schools that have not yet designated their children’s offerings to other charitable missions.

Emphasizing that the Christmas Box encourages Bible school programs that traditionally support local ministries and missions to continue to do so, Laws said her appeal is only to those who have not yet found a meaningful cause for their offerings.

“We know that the largest child-to-child ministry in the country is Vacation Bible School,” she said. “It is an excellent way to introduce children to missions right here in our community.

And through the Christmas Box, Laws said, “They will be helping children they know, children in their own schools. Every school in Carter County is included.”

At Laws’ church, Children’s Ministry Director LeAnn Holly led the kids who came to Bible school at First Baptist Church of Elizabethton to the Christmas Box for the first time last year.

She invited Laws to come and explain to the children how the Christmas Box works in partnership with the Salvation Army to provide Christmas dinner to the families of each of the Angel Tree children and to elderly people who have difficulty buying groceries.

She coordinated a nightly competition with rewards for the Bible school classes that collected the largest offerings, collecting $831 over the course of the week, or enough to provide the makings of Christmas dinner and several additional family meals included in each of the food boxes to 23 families.

In a follow-up to Bible school, Holly took the First Baptist children’s choir to sing at the Angel Tree kickoff at Walmart in Elizabethton and to place the first paper ornaments on the adoption tree. And when the Angel Tree gifts and Christmas Box food were distributed a few days before Christmas, she saw several of the children and their families volunteer in the distribution.

As for this year’s Bible school, set to run June 9-13 at the church at 212 E. F St., Holly said the children are once again “staying all local.”

“In Elizabethton, we have many families that need that. The kids are very well aware of the need in their school, so it kind of makes sense. It’s a great idea to let kids be involved in their community and make them feel like they’ve made a difference in a child’s life that they may even know.

“It’s one thing to buy presents, but when you’re talking about food that some parents can’t just go out and get, that literally makes a difference for them at Christmas time.”

For other Bible schools that collect offerings, Laws said, “If last year or in past years, they have a place they have designated, we want them to stay there. But if they have not designated a place, the Christmas Box has a P.O. Box where they can send it and they can call me if they have questions.”

For those who wish to help, tax-deductible donations to the Johnson City Press Christmas Box may be made by mail to P.O. Box 1387, Johnson City, TN 37605. Information on how Bible schools and other church and civic groups can be involved in the project may be obtained by contacting Martha Laws at 282-5756 or danlaws@charter.net.

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