The Johnson City Press has many thanks to give for the success of this year’s 31st annual Christmas Box.
To all those who sent in donations to cover the cost of holiday food for nearly 2,000 low-income families and seniors in the newspaper’s three-county circulation area, and to everyone who gave in-kind gifts of food and materials and labor needed to put it all together, Art Powers, the newspaper’s publisher and president of the Christmas Box Board of Directors, and Ron Tipton, coordinator of this year’s project and operations manager for the Press, had much appreciation to share.
With the assistance of individuals, businesses and other nonprofit partners, Christmas Box volunteers distributed 1,160 holiday food boxes on Monday and Tuesday. Each box had a 13- to 15-pound turkey, a 7-pound ham, 10 pounds of potatoes and a record 65 pounds of canned and boxed food items for families. Also distributed were 834 $30 grocery shopping gift cards for seniors living alone and small households of one or two people.
It was the largest distribution in the project’s history, with more food distributed, more people served and more money collected than ever before. And on Friday, Powers happily reported monetary contributions had finally pulled even with the nearly $57,000 cost of the food and gift cards. For a while it appeared that would not happen. Powers said, “But we begged them to give more, and sure enough the community stepped up.”
With more than $11,000 in gifts received in the past week, the cost was met. And like always, Powers said, “The community made this happen. The last count I had was 500 or 600 individual gifts, which was awesome. This is truly the people’s project.”
Tipton, who took over as Christmas Box foreman for the first time this year, stepping into a leadership role that for three decades was filled by his friend and associate, the late John Castle, simply said, “I would like to thank all of the community for their support and their volunteerism. It couldn’t have been done without their support.”
Tipton and Powers’ long thank you list began with the Johnson City Salvation Army, which annually registers and screens Christmas Box recipients for eligibility in conjunction with its Angel Tree shopping adoption project for low-income families in need of help with Christmas gifts for their children. The Salvation Army also serves as a liaison between the Christmas Box and hundreds of low-income seniors in the three-county area in need of food assistance.
Then came the Temple-Inland company of Elizabethton with a repeat of its annual gift of some 1,400 large cardboard boxes printed with the Christmas Box logo.
In early December, the Appalachian Fair, its staff and its president Phil Booher opened the fair’s commercial buildings to the Christmas Box and Angel Tree and made themselves available to help with any need in the weeks of assembly that go into the projects. And for another in many consecutive Decembers, the trustees and deputies of the Washington County Detention Center’s Community Service Program rolled in for the weeks of labor the projects require.
As Christmas Box board member and volunteer Tom Krieger, to whom the project also owes countless thanks, began the business of procuring food for boxes, a couple of other longtime supporters, Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee and Food City, once again played an invaluable role with food donations and discounts and a $1,000 gift from Food City’s holiday Race Against Hunger campaign.
Walmart stepped up with an extremely generous discount on 1,160 turkeys. Harmon Ice company graciously donated space for the turkeys’ storage. Howard Dunbar at the Moody Dunbar company in Jonesborough presented a gift of 1,160 large cans of yams for the food boxes. And the local Pepsi Bottling Co. once again sweetened the project with its annual donation of soft drinks.
And as the food began to arrive in large quantity the fairgrounds, the Army National Guard showed up with their tow motors and the manpower to operate them.
In the fundraising, Jane Rodifer, lead accountant for the Christmas Box and for the Johnson City Press, kept tabs as Hales Ministries in Carter County took an early lead, helped Carter County supporters outpace donations in Washington and Unicoi counties through most of the drive and, in the end, nearly doubled their 2010 contribution to the project.
Tipton and Powers credited volunteer Martha Laws and Pastor Jim Royston of Elizabethton’s First Baptist Church for recruiting and expertly coordinating financial and volunteer support for the Christmas Box in Carter County and volunteer Wayne Hayes for flawlessly executing the food box assembly and distribution conducted Monday in Elizabethton for nearly 500 Carter County families in need.
On distribution day at the fair, Tom Seaton and his family arrived with their Firehouse barbecue to treat the distribution volunteers to lunch. And finally, Tipton said, his thanks go out to each Press employee and community volunteer who came to the fairgrounds to load and distribute the food. “I was really pleased with how it all went,” he said. “I just can’t thank everyone enough.”
“It’s funny,” Powers said. “Every year we say it was our biggest and our best. Now here we are and we did it again. That was great.”