Danny Clark looks over the sample food box for the Christmas Box distribution. (Lee Talbert/Johnson City Press)
This week the Johnson City Press will distribute large holiday food boxes with turkey and ham to more than 1,200 families with children registered for gifts from the Salvation Army Angel Tree and $35 grocery shopping gift certificates to 762 households of one or two people with very modest means.
Recipients of the grocery certificates include hundreds of area seniors and disabled adults who survive month to month on a single Social Security check and less that $20 in food stamps, parents who are raising a child on their own and, in many instances, grandparents who have taken responsibility for a grandchild who has no one else they can depend on.
The year-round challenge in each of their households is meeting the cost of groceries on a poverty-level income, and at Christmas it’s the near-universal desire to celebrate with a special meal.
Johnnie, not her real name, is only 57 years old but has been disabled by a crippling orthopedic condition since 2009.
She walks with a cane, does not own a car and often depends on others for transportation. She survived for four years without any income and last year was awarded $730 in monthly disability benefits that qualify her for $19 a month from the federal government’s supplement nutrition program formerly known as food stamps.
“That’s it,” she said. “I live in my mother’s house since she passed away. I pay the taxes and try to keep it up as best as I can. I have utilities. My light bill runs really high ... I have some (medical) co-pays.”
The bottom line is there are times when Johnnie’s groceries run out before the end of the month. “I try not to spend them all at one time but sometimes that’s difficult,” she said. Her daughter and 7-year-old grandson are living with her now, and when school is out three meals a day are a must.
Their plan is to use Johnnie’s Christmas Box gift certificate for their Christmas meal, a turkey and as many vegetables as they can get. Johnnie is diabetic and has had some heart trouble but Christmas cookies are her grandson’s favorite. So she said, “We might have a few.”
Her grandson is not registered for the Angel Tree. He wants a watch for Christmas. And if she can save enough on groceries, he will have one.
The Christmas Box gift certificate distribution begins today and the food boxes will be distributed on Thursday and Friday. The estimated cost of the project is more than $75,000. Donations received through the end of last week were close to $50,000.
For those who wish to help, a $35 donation will provide a $35 grocery shopping certificate for a household of one or two people or all makings of a Christmas dinner for a family of three or more people, including a 15-pound turkey, a three-pound ham and enough staples for several additional family meals.
Because the Johnson City Press covers all the administrative costs of the project, 100 percent of all donations are used to purchase food. Donations are tax deductible and may be made by mail to P.O. Box 1387, Johnson City, TN 37605.
For more information about the Christmas Box, call Ron Tipton at the Johnson City Press at 929-3111, ext. 302.