At ages 71 and 77 respectively, Joe and Mary, not their real names, took custody of three of their great-grandchildren earlier this year to stop the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services from placing them in foster care.
The children’s young parents were accused of illegal drug activity. “The state was taking them and we wouldn’t have it,” Mary said with determination.
But with three small children — ages 4, 5 and 7 — to feed and care for, and only a couple of Social Security checks to work with, the couple was well aware of the financial challenge they faced.
They applied for and received food stamps. And to do all they can for the children and to force their parents to do the same, they went to court and were awarded child support from both parents. The children’s mother has paid a little. Their father has yet to pay anything.
Between their rent and utility bills and the wood they buy to heat their rural Carter County home, “It gets a little rough,” Mary said. But after raising eight children of their own, the couple know how to feed a family.
When the local potato crop came in, Mary bought four bushels and stored them away for the colder months ahead. For their Thanksgiving dinner, she has a roast. Her Christmas menu is still uncertain. “I know I’ll have potatoes,” she said. But she’s never received food from Johnson City Press Christmas Box and she doesn’t know what to expect.
The couple hasn’t started their Christmas shopping, but Mary has a few things in mind. The oldest of the girls has visions of an Easy Bake Oven dancing in her head. The 5-year-old has requested a Little Mommy doll. Both girls like anything Barbie. Their 4-year-old great-grandson loves trucks, cars and riding toys.
While it is most likely the children will be adopted by Angel Tree shoppers, nothing is a given for any of the 2,716 low-income children in Carter, Unicoi and Washington counties included in the holiday project. So for any child who may be overlooked, the Salvation Army, with help from the local Marines and contributors to their annual Toys for Tots drive, will be prepared to put together Angel Tree gifts of new toys and clothing for the children to open Christmas morning.
For any gifts that come from the Angel Tree and for the extra food from Christmas Box, Mary’s voice quivered as she expressed her appreciation. “I thank God there are people who really care about kids,” she said.
For those who wish to help, a $35 donation to the Christmas Box will provide all the makings of a holiday meal, including a 12-pound turkey, a 4-pound ham, and enough extra staples for several additional meals for one family, or a $35 grocery shopping gift card for a senior or a household of one or two people.
The Christmas Box is a 501(c) (3) not-for-profit corporation and all contributions are tax deductible. And because the newspaper covers all administrative costs of the project, 100 percent of all monetary gifts go directly to the purchase of food. Donations may be mailed to the Johnson City Press Christmas Box of Northeast Tennessee, P.O. Box 1387, Johnson City, TN 37605. For more information about the Christmas Box and how to help, call Ron Tipton at the Johnson City Press at 929-3111, ext. 302.
The Salvation Army Angel Trees decorated with paper ornaments bearing the children’s first names, clothing sizes and gift wishes can be found outside JC Penney at The Mall at Johnson City, both Johnson City Walmart stores, Sandy’s Jewel Box, local Verizon Wireless locations and Walmart, FATZ restaurant and several banks in Elizabethton. Unwrapped gifts for the children are due back at the trees on Dec. 13 and will be distributed on Dec. 19 and 20. For more information on how to help with the Angel Tree project, call the Salvation Army at 926-2101.