ELIZABETHTON — After months of fundraising and weeks of hard work, the Johnson City Press Christmas Box food drive and the Salvation Army Angel Tree toy drive began distribution Monday.
More than 1,700 area families will receive food for the Christmas holidays from the Johnson City Christmas Box program and 2,719 children up to age 12 will receive toys from the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree project.
Distribution for Carter County families took place Monday at a vacant retail store on West Elk Avenue. The distribution continues today for Washington and Unicoi county residents at the Appalachian Fairgrounds and will continue Wednesday if needed.
On Monday, the old Magic Mart Building looked like Santa’s Workshop as volunteer workers lined up row after row of Angel Tree toys and bicycles and then began giving them out to the families of the boys and girls. Other volunteers distributed a small mountain of food to low-income families so they could have a Christmas dinner.
Major Jayne Brewster of the Salvation Army said things were going well with the Angel Tree distribution on the first day.
“So far, so good,” Brewster said. “We had a few glitches early, just as always with something this big, but the people were very patient and things are working out really well.” She said 870 Carter County children received gifts from caring neighbors this year.
In addition to the gifts from those who adopted an angel, Brewster said others made donations or bought bicycles that were used to round out gifts for the children.
One of the largest donors was the Carter County Car Club. Member Ron McCloud said the club purchased $1,000 worth of bicycles and helmets for the children and an additional $3,000 that was used with Walmart discounts to buy additional toys. Individual club members donated an additional $900. McCloud said the Northeast Tennessee Classic Thunderbird Club provided $400 in presents. Club members also helped pack the boxes and distribute the toys.
Another section of the old Magic Mart was piled high with food collected for the Christmas Box program. Workers placed the food into shopping carts to distribute to the families. Each box contained 65 pounds of dry and canned goods, a 10-pound bag of potatoes, a 3-pound bag of onions, a 10-to-12-pound turkey and a 7-pound ham. On top of the food, each family also got Monday’s edition of the Johnson City Press.
The volunteer workers pushing the carts formed a line out the door to the waiting families. The volunteers then had to load the food into the family’s cars and trucks, over and over and over. For smaller families of one or two people, the Christmas Box was just too much. People from these smaller residences were given a $30 gift card that could be used to purchase food of their choice.
Art Powers, publisher of the Johnson City Press and president of the Christmas Box board of directors, was pleased with the distribution.
“Martha Laws has done an outstanding job on organizing things in Carter County,” Powers said. Laws is a member of First Baptist Church, and many of the Christmas Box workers Monday were members of the church.
The workers were assisted by four trustys from the Carter County jail. Their supervisor, Bill Whitley, said they’re “happy to take part.” Since they will be serving their sentence during Christmas Day, Whitley said their work Monday “makes them feel like they are a part of Christmas for someone else.”
While distribution went smoothly Monday, Powers said there is still a need for donations to the Christmas Box program.
“Our contributions have been lagging this year,” Powers said. “Right now we are about $20,000 behind. We need the help of the community.”
A $35 donation combined with the help of Second Harvest Food Bank and contributions from Moody Dunbar food processors can buy enough food to cover a Christmas meal for an entire family. The box contains enough for several additional meals.
For those who wish to contribute, tax-deductible donations may be made to the Johnson City Press Christmas Box of Northeast Tennessee, P.O. Box 1387, Johnson City, TN 37605. The newspaper covers all administrative costs of the project so 100 percent of all monetary gifts go to the purchase of food.
For more information on the Angel Tree project, call the Salvation Army at 926-2101. For more information about the Christmas Box, call the Johnson City Press at 929-3111.