A holiday tradition in this community for nearly a quarter of a century begins today with the launching of the 24th annual Needy Families Fund. Since 1988, the annual campaign has helped make Christmas a little brighter for families in Boyd, Greenup and Carter counties.
Also being launched today is the annual Giving Tree program sponsored by the Community Assistance and Referral Services, or CAReS, as it is much better known. Both the start of Giving Tree and the Needy Family Fund are tied to tonight’s Magical Night of Giving at the Ashland Town Center.
Ashley Traylor, the VISTA worker at CAReS, is coordinating the Giving Tree for the second consecutive year. She said cards for 565 children have been placed on trees at the Ashland Town Center and at Chick-fil-A on Riverhill Drive. Supporters of the Giving Tree select a card or cards from the tree bearing the gender, age and clothing sizes of the child along with what they want for Christmas. Those selecting cards buy presents for their child and bring their purchases back to the Giving Tree to be wrapped and distributed.
“A lot of families have made selecting a card from the Giving Tree a part of their Christmas celebration,” said Trish Hall, executive director of CAReS. “Many of them select a child who is about the same age as their children and together parents and children buy presents for a child they do not even know.
“I have always been impressed with how many giving people we have in this community,” Hall added. “A year ago, 210 children received new bicycles through the Giving Tree. That’s just amazing to me and it speaks well of this community.”
The number of children on the Giving Tree is down by 182 from the 747 who were on the Tree in 2011, Traylor said. “We’re not sure why that is, but the Salvation Army, and other agencies, also experienced a decline in the number of people being helped this year.”
While Traylor said she does not think the decline is a result of fewer people being eligible for help, she did say the fewer number will make it easier for CAReS to assure that all the cards are selected.
The Needy Families Fund was launched in 1988 by former Independent prublisher John DelSanto, and for the first 20 years, the collections were funneled through The Independent. However, four years ago, the four nonprofit agencies that benefit from the fund — CAReS and the Salvation Army in Boyd County, Helping Hands in Greenup County and Project Merry Christmas in Carter County — assumed management of the fundraising effort with the donations going through CAReS instead of the newspaper.
CAReS and the local Salvation Army each receive 40 percent of the donated funds, while Helping Hands and Project Merry Christmas each get 10 percent. As always, 100 percent of the giving in the Needy Family Funds will go to the four agencies. Those working on the drive are all volunteers and there are no fundraising expenses.
A year ago, the fund raised $30,800. While that was down from the $33,900 raised in 2010, Hall said she is amazed at how the fund continues to generate more than $30,000 each year regardless of the local economy.
“I think there are a lot a individuals, families, civic clubs, Sunday school classes, businesses and organizations large and small who have made giving to the Needy Families Find one of their holiday traditions,” Hall said. “They give every year and some of them have done so every year since the beginning.”
Debbie Blevins, executive director of Helping Hands in Greenup, is counting on money from the Needy Families Fund to help the organization fill 3,000 boxes with enough food for a Christmas dinner plus a $20 gift card from Kroger’s so they can buy what they want.
In the last year, Helping Hands has opened an office in South Shore, and Blevins said, “We keep growing every day. This fund will help us get through the holidays.”
“Every gift helps,” said Blevins, who is not in her second year as Helping Hands director. “Some are able to give us large donations and we greatly appreciate that, but even if you can only give a few dollars, every gift helps. It is not what you give that counts, it is why you give.”
This will mark the 30th year that Project Merry Christmas will be helping more than 900 families and some 650 children during Christmas. and money from the Needy Families Fund helps make that possible. The goal is for each family to receive a food basket and each child to receive socks, a book, gloves, sweatshirt and toy, said Phyllis Davis coordinator of Project Merry Christmas.
Donations to the Needy Families Fund can be delivered to the CAReS office in the Neighborhood at 2616 Carter Ave., mailed to CAReS at P.O. Box 1503, Ashland, 41105 and made electronically at boydcountycares.org. All gifts are tax deductible.
Once again, The Independent will publish a list of those who donate and whether they make the donation in memory or honor of someone.
JOHN CANNON can be reached at email@example.com or at (606) 326-2649.