While many county residents enjoyed Christmas as usual this year, 26 kids and their families who otherwise would have received no gifts were treated to a bevy of presents and a hearty holiday meal, thanks to the Highland County Prosecutor’s Office and local nonprofit For Highland County Kids.
It was a heartbreaking children’s services case in 2011 that compelled Highland County Prosecuting Attorney Anneka Collins to make sure needy families here have a good Christmas.
Collins told The Times-Gazette that she and assistant prosecuting attorney Molly Bolek visited a home connected to the case in December 2011, where Christmas was likely to come and go without gifts or a good meal for four young children.
“They didn’t have a Christmas tree up, they didn’t have any presents and there wasn’t any sign they were going to,” Collins said. “Molly and I just used our own money and bought gifts for them.”
But a phone call to Highland County Community Action, which has programs in place to provide gifts for underprivileged families, later revealed that there were many children around the county who weren’t going to receive Christmas gifts, even with the gift programs.
“We kind of flipped out about that in the office, like, that’s unacceptable,” Collins said.
So, it was time for another phone call, and another, and another, asking local churches, organizations and individuals for a little Christmas money to make the kids’ holiday a little more merry and bright.
In its first year, the campaign raised enough money to buy gifts for about 50 children, Collins said.
Ross Greer, an assistant prosecuting attorney who passed away in 2015, created For Highland County Kids in 2012 as a nonprofit to accept more donations.
Now, many individuals and organizations donate in his memory, Collins said.
Every year since, Collins’ office has called Community Action to see how many children are in need of gifts, and once a number is determined, staff members from the prosecutor’s office speak to each child individually to determine what they want for Christmas.
And for about a week before the holiday, the grand jury room at the prosecutor’s office is transformed into Santa’s workshop, the conference table piled high with gifts.
This year, the initiative provided 26 children with Christmas presents. The need was much lower this year than in previous years, Collins said, a testament to how many local programs and organizations have stepped up to give gifts to children in need.
One year, Collins said the office bought gifts for more than 60 children.
“We are just so thankful we have such an amazing county that chips in for us,” she said.
Santa Claus joined staff from the prosecutor’s office and one of Collins’ children on Friday to personally deliver the gifts to each home, along with a Christmas meal.
“My kids are so excited every year to help,” Collins said. “Our whole office family gets involved in this.”
Bolek told The Times-Gazette that many families aren’t able to see Santa Claus in person because they don’t have transportation to malls or events where St. Nick is present.
“To be able to help out with that part of it is awesome,” Bolek said.
“Honestly, it started out as, ‘Oh my gosh, what are we going to do?’ and it has turned into something we look forward to year after year,” Collins said. “It’s just amazing.”
Collins said the initiative raises money year-round. To make a donation, call the prosecutor’s office at 937-393-1851.
Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570, or on Twitter @DavidWrighter.