Record need prompts early request for Christmas spirit

Sue Guinn Legg • Jul 5, 2014 at 9:51 PM

Christmas comes once a year, but the need is all year long.

It’s a painful truth the Johnson City Press Christmas Box is emphasizing as it begins fundraising early for this year’s holiday food distribution to local families and seniors who struggle to meet the cost of food, especially at Christmas.

Spurred by an $18,000 gap between contributions received and a record $76,000 cost of holiday food boxes and grocery shopping gift certificates for nearly 2,000 area households last year, directors of the nonprofit Christmas Box are beginning their appeal for the community’s assistance now.

While reserve funds were available to make up the 2013 shortfall, Christmas Box Board Chairman Art Powers said “the resources were mostly depleted, which will make it much more difficult if the contributions are again down in the fall.

“We are asking the community to once again get behind the Christmas Box and send in their contributions early.”

Also of concern is the rising cost of food, Powers said.

“Food prices have gone up substantially, and we’re pretty certain we’ll be buying at higher prices,” he said. “We’re trying our best not to reduce the contents of the box. We really don’t want to do that.”

Among the largest holiday food distributions in the greater Johnson City area, the Christmas Box has for many years provided the makings of a traditional Christmas dinner to the families of each of nearly 3,000 children in Washington, Carter and Unicoi counties who receive gifts through the Salvation Army Angel Tree.

The food box is also known to be one of the region’s most generous, including both a turkey and a ham, 10 pounds of potatoes, three pounds of onions and enough extra staples for several additional family meals.

The annual distribution also includes $35 grocery shopping gift certificates for nearly 800 low-income seniors and small households of one or two people.

For many years, the Christmas Box also has provided hams for an additional 600 households served by other charitable holiday distributions in Johnson and Unicoi counties.

All total, 1,965 households were included in last year’s project, for an estimated total of 6,000 people assisted.

In hopes of continuing the size and scope of the Christmas Box outreach this year, each Sunday through the end of July, the newspaper will share the stories of a few of the individuals the project has impacted.

We’ll revisit seniors whose December food budgets were supplemented, allowing them to enjoy a few extras or to better meet the cost of their utilities and medicine. We’ll also revisit parents who were able to spend less on groceries and more on gifts for their children to open Christmas morning.

Advertisements with information on how to donate to the Christmas Box will begin appearing in the newspaper today and continue throughout the month.

Justin Wilcox, publisher of the Johnson City Press and a member of the Christmas Box board, emphasized the need to begin the fundraising early, the underlying need in the community that initiated the Christmas Box in 1980 and the generosity of contributors who have allowed it to continue each Christmas since then.

“We continue to appreciate the generosity of the residents and businesses in the greater Johnson City area, but we needed to get an early start this year, as the need is growing,” Wilcox said.

“Our response has been phenomenal, but the need has also been such. We ask that people continue their support and help us get going earlier this year so as to keep up with the growing need.”

Powers said, “We are confident that in this our 34th year, the contributions will come in.”

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.

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