In spring 2012, a Carter County couple well into their 70s took custody of three of their great-grandchildren who were at risk of being placed in state custody because of their parents’ involvement in illegal drugs.
With a little more than $1,000 in monthly Social Security income and little hope that the children’s parents would ever provide the child support they were ordered to pay, they were immediately hard-pressed to meet the children’s basic needs for food, shelter and clothing.
That fall, with Christmas approaching and the 4, 5 and 7-year-old children expecting Santa Claus to deliver, they registered the trio for help from the local Salvation Army Angel Tree and a large family food box complete with a turkey and a ham from the Johnson City Press Christmas Box.
At Thanksgiving, the couple shared their story with the Johnson City Press to help encourage support for the sister holiday projects. Introduced to our readers as Joe and Mary, they expressed no regret for taking on such a tremendous responsibility.
“The state was taking them and we wouldn’t have it,” Mary told us plainly.
“It gets a little rough,” she said at that time. But after raising eight children of their own, Joe and Mary were well versed in the challenges of feeding a large family.
They had never before received Angel Tree gifts or Christmas Box food, and they weren’t depending on it. At the height of that year’s harvest season, they had bought four bushels of potatoes and stored them away for the months ahead.
When they talked with the newspaper, they were busy lining up a store of firewood to heat their rental home through the winter. And they were making a list of toys they knew they could afford for the children — an Easy Bake Oven for the oldest, a Little Mommy doll for the 5-year-old, Barbie dolls for both girls and a riding toy, trucks and cars for their baby brother.
A week before Christmas, Joe and Mary’s planning paid off and coupled well with the Angel Tree packages that came that year with two new outfits for each for the children, socks and pajamas, but very few toys. Hales Ministries brought new shoes for the children. And a Johnson City Press reader and his sister delivered a well-seasoned load of wood.
“If it hadn’t been for people helping me when I first got (the children), I don’t know what I would have done because I didn’t have anything,” Mary said last week.
The Angel Tree clothing they received that year was “a good thing, because they were outgrowing everything they had,” she said. More toys came from the children’s aunts and uncles.
And with the turkey and ham, extra potatoes, onions and staples they received from the Christmas Box, Mary said, “those younguns had a feed. It was a blessing. I tell you it came in handy. The way these kids eat, it takes a lot.”
A year and a half later, things are more settled at Joe and Mary’s house. The children are all “growing like weeds,” she said. They’ve done well in school. And they’re all playing ball this summer.
Meeting the household bills and providing enough food continues to be a struggle. The family’s food stamps were reduced by $100 in January, putting their monthly food budget for five people at just over $400. They use the $236 a month in Family First benefits the children receive to buy their clothes, shoes and schools supplies. And they use their Social Security to cover the household bills.
“I pay the light bill, the house rent and our insurance and that takes it,” Mary said. “It comes in and it goes out. It’s hard. I mean, it’s rough.”
To provide food for this year’s Christmas meal for Joe and Mary and the children and each of 1,900 other families in Carter, Unicoi and Washington counties who will receive gifts for their children from the Salvation Army Angel Tree, and $35 grocery shopping gift certificates for several hundred low-income seniors in the three counties, the Christmas Box is requesting the community’s assistance.
Those who wish to help with the food distribution may make tax-deductible donations to the Johnson City Press Christmas Box by mail to P.O. Box 1387, Johnson City, TN 37605.
Because the newspaper covers all administrative costs of the project, 100 percent of all donations to the Christmas Box are used to purchase food.