Now in his 70s, Joe’s life is much different than the one he lived before the deaths of his wife and son.

Since his move to a Johnson City complex for low-income seniors two years ago, his neighbors have become his family and he is compelled to do what he can to help them.

“I don’t really have a family anymore. My wife and son passed away. I’m 70. And my life is a lot different,” he said. “I’m glad to be here. The people are nice and it’s comforting. I feel I have a home here. And I like to help out because the help comes back to you in the long run.”

Like him, most of the people in Joe’s building live on their Social Security income and qualify for a monthly food stamp stipend that does not last anywhere near through the end of the month. So when USDA food commodities come around or a local ministry makes its regular delivery of supplemental food boxes, Joe can be counted on to help get the extra food to their doors.

As he goes from apartment to apartment, Joe said, “The people are always gracious to me and appreciative. A lot of people here are lonely. They don’t have families anymore and it’s a blessing to see someone at their door.”

Joe understands what it is to run short and what a difference the food makes. “It gets hard toward the end of the month. And that food helps with our income.”

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, Joe and his neighbors are already looking forward to the little extra they will spend in the week before Christmas. Compliments of the Johnson City Press Christmas Box and its supporters, they will be among 300 area seniors who will be receiving a $35 grocery shopping gift certificate to help with their Christmas dinner.

Joe plans to use his to pitch in and cook with a small band of friends he’s made outside his complex. “Three or four of us we’ll get together and spend some time. And hopefully we’ll have a fine Christmas,” he said. “It’s nice to share blessings with other people. And basically that is my family now, the people around the building and the friends I’ve made.”

Like most things this year, the upcoming 40th annual Christmas Box distribution has been scaled back because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). To avoid bringing together the number of volunteers who traditionally help with the project, the staff at the Johnson City Salvation Army will be handling all the labor for the Christmas Box, which works in partnership with the army’s Angel Tree gift distribution for children in Washington, Carter and Unicoi counties.

The Christmas Box will provide food for a holiday meal to just over 1,000 area families with children registered for help from the Angel Tree and $35 grocery shopping gift certificates to about 300 low-income seniors.

In lieu of the large family food box the Christmas Box traditionally distributes, this year’s distribution will include a smaller pre-packed box of 22 to 24 canned goods and shelf-stable food items, a small ham, a 10-pound bag of potatoes, a 3-pound bag of onions and a $35 food shopping gift certificate for families of three to five people.

Families of six or more people will receive two $35 gift certificates with the side items. And small households of one or two people will receive the $35 food certificate.

Donations to the Christmas Box can be made online at jcpchristmasbox.com or by mail to P.O. Box 1387, Johnson City, TN 37605.

The Christmas Box is a 501 ( c) 3 organization, and all donations are tax-deductible. And because the Johnson City Press covers all administrative costs for the project, 100 percent of all donations are used to buy food.

More information about the project can be found at the website and at the Johnson City Press Christmas Box page on Facebook, or can be obtained by contacting Senior Reporter Sue Guinn Legg at slegg@johnsoncitypress.com or 423-722-0538.