If it takes a village to raise a child, then Erin Walters would say it also takes a village and more to make a memorable Christmas for many children in the Lynchburg-Clay School District.
In 2002, a social worker in the school system started Christmas Blessings, a program that helps less fortunate kids in the Lynchburg-Clay School District have a brighter Christmas. That first year the program helped 24 children from seven families. Walters took started overseeing the program in 2014. Last year it helped 87 kids, and this year it will help 163 kids from 65 families.
Walters said she decided to take the program’s reins after seeing how much people appreciated the former director’s efforts.
“There is a huge need, and it’s good to give back and help people — make somebody happy,” Walters, a kindergarten teacher at Lynchburg-Clay, said. “When a grandmother shows up and she’s in tears because otherwise the grandchildren she’s raising wouldn’t have Christmas, that makes it all worth it.”
Walters said this year’s drive to raise money for nearly twice the number of kids has been especially bizarre. But she said that each time it looked like there would not be enough donors, someone would call and say they wanted to help.
“It’s just random people that come together to make these kids have a great Christmas,” she said.
Children served by the program can be as old as seniors in high school all the way down to newborns.
“They’re sort of nominated by their teachers, and the teachers can nominate whatever kids they think need help,” Walters said. “Then we send letters to the families of those children and ask if they want to participate. We like to help people who maybe can’t get help elsewhere, or don’t know where to go to get help.”
There were 69 Christmas Blessings donors this year, and Walters said many of them were Lynchburg-Clay staff members. But donations also came from churches, organizations, businesses and individuals, mostly from the Lynchburg area, but also from Hillsboro, Mowrystown, Blanchester and elsewhere.
Each kid on the list receives $100 in gifts, or about six gifts. Each family also receives a full Christmas dinner including a half ham, mashed potatoes, green beens, corn, sweet potatoes, rolls, and a box of brownies to make for dessert; plus a variety of toiletries, including a new tooth brush for everyone in the home.
Volunteers wrap all the gifts so they’re ready to place under a tree, and families schedule a time on Dec. 19 to pick them up. If for some reason a family member is not able to pick up the gifts, the Lynchburg Area Joint Fire and Ambulance District steps in, delivering gifts to the home with someone dressed as Santa and a procession of lighted vehicles.
In other instances, Walters said, there have been families that opted to help with the program rather than buy gifts for each other.
“It’s just a whole bunch of people who want to help make the lives of the children in our district a little brighter during the Christmas season,” Walters said. “If it wasn’t for everyone that helps, it wouldn’t happen. And that’s the truth.”
Those who volunteered to help with the program this year included: Christy Roberts, Jen McLaughlin, Kelly Walkup, Jamie Roberts, Kim Parker, Shawna McGuire, Lisa Fittro, Tonda Myers, Missy Wages, Heather Carraher, Jeanie Linton, Colleen Mount and Kim Hess.
Business and churches that helped — Walters said she didn’t want to list individuals because some of them might prefer to remain anonymous — included: Lynchburg-Clay staff, Tom Pitzer Trucking, Rammel Walls, Greg Parker Drywall, Cross County Bushido Karate Tournament, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Allensburg Church of Christ, Lynchburg-Clay board office, Highland County Health Department staff, Higgins Steel Roofing, Pricetown Church of Christ, Union Church of Christ, First Church of Christ in Lynchburg, Allensburg Church of Christ, Dodsonville Church of Christ, Living Springs Church in Mowrystown, Hess Auction Company, Hillsboro Eagles, Magulac Tire, Lynchburg-Clay boys basketball team, Lynchburg-Clay National Honor Society, Lynchburg-Clay Student Council, St. Mary Catholic Church in Hillsboro, Allensburg Church of Christ Youth Group, Pleasant Grove Community Church in Blanchester, First Financial Bank, plus more than 50 individual donors.
“I really hope the true spirit of Christmas is felt through this program,” Walters said. “This year we have been able to help more children then I ever imagined we could, and it wouldn’t be possible without the generosity of these amazing people.”
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522.