Groups gear up for annual holiday giving

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By James Roberts

Connie Wooley is surrounded by toys. To her left are dolls, make-up kits and stuffed animals. To her right are action figures, trucks and cars. It may be an unusual scene for a fire department, but it's common this time of year at the Campbellsville Fire Department.

With the Holiday Helpline now closed, several groups are gearing up to gather toys and food to help make a memorable Christmas for those less fortunate.

With many toys already on hand, Wooley, the fire department's administrative assistant, said the supply won't last.

"We'll have to buy more."

The Holiday Helpline closed Friday with requests for food or toys for 342 families. While that is up from 318 families last year, the number is lower than the average.

"We usually get around 380 families," said Sue Crabtree, who oversees the helpline.

The helpline is for families who would not otherwise have Christmas and is a joint effort by agencies in the community to coordinate holiday giving in order that those in need receive help and all needs are met.

The information is organized based on what has been requested - food or gifts - and then forwarded to several groups including the Taylor County Ministerial Association Food Pantry, churches, Campbellsville Fire Department and Campbellsville/Taylor County Rescue.

"The fire department takes whatever gift requests are left and the food pantry takes whatever food requests are left," Crabtree said.

Marietta Moyers, who volunteers at the food pantry, said the pantry ordinarily serves about 150 families from the helpline requests. In addition to the usual non-perishable items, families get Christmas dinner items such as turkeys and rolls.

Rescue usually gets about 200 names from the Helpline for its Toys for Tots program, but, according to organizer Denise Gupton, Rescue will serve about 300 children this year.

Gupton said she'll have about $15,000 to spend this year. She, along with several other volunteers, begins buying gifts this week. On Christmas Eve, Rescue employees, church groups and volunteers will deliver the gifts. Those who wish to volunteer should arrive at Rescue at 8 a.m. Rescue is located on South Columbia Avenue across from the Campbellsville Water Co.

Meanwhile, Wooley said, the fire department will likely purchase its additional toys soon.

While the fire department accepts toy donations year round, fundraisers kick in during October with auctions and dances.

According to Sharon Dobson, who heads up the fire department Toys for Kids program, private individuals also donate money for the program.

"We have a lot of support from the community," Dobson said. "We couldn't do it without their help."

Though all of the funds haven't been turned in yet, Dobson said, she estimates that about $8,000 has been raised this year. That's about average.

Dobson hasn't yet received the names of the children Toys for Kids will serve this year. On average, the program serves 350 to 450 children age 6 months to 15 years.

The gifts are delivered on Christmas Eve by firefighters and volunteers, Dobson said. Anyone willing to help should be at the fire department on Broadway by 8 a.m.

"It's very involved, but it's worth it to see the smiles on the kids' faces," Dobson said. "That's your reward. I don't think any of us are in it for the attention."

- Staff Writer James Roberts can be reached at 465-8111 Ext. 226 or by e-mail at writer@cknj.com.