Thursday was a cold, wet day at the Appalachian Fair but the distribution of Angel Tree gifts for 1,800 children and Christmas Box food and grocery shopping gift certificates for 1,000 low-income families and seniors in Washington and Unicoi counties warmed the hearts of everyone involved.
“They’ll probably make a lot of kids happy,” Cregg Moss said cheerfully as he darted into the rain to help wedge three of 300 bicycles distributed into the bed of a small pickup truck loaded with gifts boxes and groceries.
“Its delightful to see the faces of all those people and know that they’re going to have a merry Christmas,” said Christmas Box Chairman Art Powers, who happily spent the day standing in the rain, directing a double line of cars to the food pickup bay.
Powers and Moss were among about three dozen volunteers who helped place gifts from the sister project into the hands of recipients. Johnson City Press Operations Manager Ron Tipton and Salvation Army Capt. Fallyn Garrison, who coordinated the weeks of work that went into the distribution, were most appreciative for their help.
“We’re really grateful and really blessed to have a community that comes out and helps us and we’re thankful to have their support,” Tipton said.
Garrison thanked the volunteers as they gathered for a lunch of chili and corn bread from the Salvation Army kitchen, saying “it takes an army” to make the Angel Tree possible, and calling the projects’ many supporters “the shield” of the community’s needy.
A woman who lost her son to suicide earlier this year and moved to Johnson City with the three young children he left behind best explained the meaning of gifts. “It’s been a hard year and this is a blessing to us,” she said.
On Wednesday, the Salvation Army and Johnson City Press distributed Angel Tree packages to nearly 900 Carter County children and Christmas Box food and food shopping certificates to more than 700 families and seniors, bringing the projects’ total numbers to more than 2,700 children and 1,900 low-income households served.
While contributions to both projects have been less than those received last year and the costs considerably higher, Powers and Garrison reiterated their appreciation for the many gifts that have been received.
“It’s a been a really good week,” for donations, Powers said. “And I’m sure contributions will still be coming in, and that’s good because we still need a little more help because of the price increases we incurred. It’s just reassuring that the community stepped forward as it always has.”
While all but eight of 2,714 Angel Tree children in the three counties were adopted by area shoppers, gifts for about 200 of those children were not returned for distribution. Capt. Nick Garrison said the Salvation Army spent about $15,000 buying gifts for those children. But with generous assistance from the local Marines’ Toys for Tots program and donations from individuals who helped defer the cost, the agency ended up only $5,000 over its Angel Tree budget.
“That should impact the services we provide all year and the message we want to convey today is ‘Thank you,’ ” he said. “The Angel Tree is over but our Red Kettles will be out through Christmas Eve and we’ll gladly accept any more people would like to give.”
Donations to help the Salvation Army may be made at Red Kettles located at shopping centers across the area or by mail to the Salvation Army, 204 W. Walnut St., Johnson City, TN., 37604.
Donations to help with this year’s Christmas Box food, which is still more than $25,000 short of its total cost, may be made to the Johnson City Press Christmas Box of Northeast Tennessee, P.O. Box 1387, Johnson City, TN 37605.