ASHE COUNTY —Local churches and organizations spent last week sorting and wrapping Christmas presents for more than 800 children of the Ashe County Children’s Christmas Project.
According to David Blackburn, director of Ashe Missionary Baptist Association, each child receives $100 worth of gifts such as stuffed animals, MP3 players, board games and clothes. Each child is always provided with two books.
Where it all started
Ashe County Children’s Christmas Project first began in the 1980s and was originally led by the Ashe County Cooperative Extension before it was taken over by the Ashe Missionary Baptist Association.
According to David Blackburn, the agency approached him several years ago when the project was struggling.
“I couldn’t let it die,” David Blackburn said.
David Blackburn said he agreed to let the Ashe Missionary Baptist Association take it over as the project’s leading agency.
Each year, nearly $100,000 is spent providing hundreds of children in Ashe County with Christmas gifts.
Preparation for the project begins nearly four months before Christmas when day cares, schools and other agencies make referrals of those who may be unable to provide gifts for their children.
The names of those children are then given to the Ashe County Department of Social Services who determine if they are eligible for the project. That list is sent to the Ashe Partnership for Children who will then ask those eligible families the clothing sizes of their children and for a list of three preferred gifts.
According to David Blackburn, each child’s list and information is printed onto a red card for community members to use as a guide when purchasing gifts.
Presents are then dropped off at Ashe Family Central where they are wrapped and prepared for families to pick up on Dec. 8.
Showing their true colors
The project relies heavily on volunteers from organizations and churches to help with the gift wrapping and many volunteers who have worked with the project since the beginning continue to help out.
Linda Blackburn, a project volunteer of more than 20 years, says she comes back each year for a number of reasons including the relationship she now has with several of the families.
“I know so many of these families. Some of the families have just had hard times, health reasons or whatever the case, and you see them year after year,” Linda Blackburn said. “If you come on distribution day, you see those families that are thrilled – crying and hugging, almost shouting – then you know ‘I have to do it again next year.’”
Linda Blackburn also said that many times families who once needed help from the project later return to give back.
“We had one guy, his family had struggled for five years or so. He came back one year and brought $20 and said ‘I think I can cover my children this year. I know this isn’t much, but maybe it will help a little,’” Linda Blackburn said.
Dayna Price and Rebecca Williams of the Volunteer Initiative Advisory Board were at Ashe Family Central on Friday, Dec. 4 to help with the gift wrapping. Williams said the board chose to come wrap presents in lieu of their December board meeting.
According to Williams, the county has such a need for this kind of project and she is amazed by the outpour of help that comes from the entire community.
“Ashe County has a real sense of volunteerism. It’s amazing the type of people we have here,” Williams said. “It’s something they naturally do. It’s not something you have to beg for. They just show up because they want to help.”
Price noted how many church youth groups she has seen come to Ashe Family Central to help out.
“All these kids wrapping presents for other kids is great,” Price said.”It’s a good lesson for them and I think it will carry with them a long time.”
According to Price, projects like this bring out the best of Ashe County residents.
“I think it’s a clear indication of how everybody pitches in in this community and this county. Everybody has such giving hearts here,” Price said. “It’s just a good time of the year. Everyone shows their true colors in this county.”
Hannah Myers can be reached at 336-846-7164 or on Twitter @cmedia_hmyers.