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Martinsville Bulletin, Inc.
P. O. Box 3711
204 Broad Street
Martinsville, Virginia 24115
Toll Free: 800-234-6575

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Bringing Christmas Cheer
Group trying to meet needs of families
Click to Enlarge
Annmarie Wright (left), Christmas Cheer volunteer, and Margaret P. Dillon, its office manager, pack toys to distribute to the area's needy children.

Friday, December 15, 2006

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Christmas Cheer is providing 200 fewer food baskets this year due to the rising costs of food, toys and operating expenses, organizers say.

One thousand food boxes will be distributed, compared to 1,200 last year. Grace Network, a local agency that provides year-round help to those in need, is expected to help some families who might previously have been served by Christmas Cheer, according to cheer's treasurer, Ralph Lawson, and office manager, Margaret Dillon.

At the same time, Christmas Cheer is trying to live within its $45,000 fund-raising goal, mainly because the agency relies on donations from the community to provide its services.

Currently, donations stand at $19,360, or less than half the agency's goal, Lawson said. That is almost on par with fund-raising at this time last year, minus the proceeds of a fundraiser that typically has benefited the organization but was not held this year.

"Our donations (monetary) have been off somewhat the last couple or three years," Dillon said.

But volunteers are confident the community will continue supporting the project.

"Our organization has been here for 53 years, bringing Christmas Cheer to Martinsville and Henry County," Lawson said. "But it is only our great citizens here in Martinsville and Henry County that make that possible. Local residents have always come through for us in the past. We expect this year will be no different."

Christmas Cheer included $28,500 in its operating budget to cover the cost of buying groceries to fill food boxes, but it has exceeded that amount.

The cost of providing the boxes is estimated to be at least $30,000, even with discounts for buying in bulk, Lawson said. He described the food boxes as "huge and containing everything you would find if you went grocery shopping."

Staples such as sugar, flour and cereal are included along with other nonperishable items.

Additional food boxes may be provided in cases of extreme hardship, Lawson said.

Many families also will benefit from food collected by area students through food drives in area schools, with those items divided into smaller boxes and distributed, Lawson said.

Each year, Christmas Cheer also provides blankets to families.

"This year, we bought over $6,000 worth of blankets," Lawson said, adding that coloring books and crayons also are distributed to youngsters.

Among families being helped by the agency, there are 541 children aged 12 and under who also will receive Christmas presents, Dillon said.

That number also has declined from last year's total of 739 youngsters, Dillon said.

The Marine Corps helps by providing toys through its toy drive, she said. As a result, "we're in fairly good shape" for most age groups.

"We also help with heat and oil," Lawson said, and the agency has spent $3,800 to help provide warmth.

The deadline to apply for Christmas Cheer has passed. The "help we provide is income-based," Lawson said of the calculation used to determine if a family qualifies for assistance.

A screening committee verifies information provided in the applications and the agency then makes its list of qualified applicants, he said.

Officials with Christmas Cheer and Salvation Army then compare lists to determine if they are duplicating services, Lawson said.

If the same name appears on both agencies' lists, "they take one and we take one" to make sure everyone has a good holiday season but no one receives double the goodies.

In addition to providing Christmas necessities to many area families, the organization also must pay rent on its Doyle Street facility, utilities (gas and electric), insurance and "a ton of other expenses you wouldn't even think of," Lawson said.

While there are "a little bit" of funds on hand that have accrued over the years, Lawson said that money is used for the coming year's rent before donations begin coming in.

Donations can be mailed to Christmas Cheer, P.O. Box 540, Martinsville, Va., 24114.


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