By Kristin Fox
With numerous families in Western North Carolina falling below the poverty line, Christmas can be a tough time of year for many. Fortunately, the people of Western North Carolina are known for their kindness and caring hearts especially at this time of year. For those who need extra help during the holiday season, the communities’ generosity in Macon, Jackson and Swain Counties can be seen in the many opportunities available during the Christmas season.
The following are just some of the local organizations in Macon, Jackson and Swain County that offer programs to help those in need this holiday season.
For 30 years, Holiday Angels, an emergency assistance program, has helped families with the greatest need during the Christmas holidays. Macon County Program for Progress (MPP) assists young children, elderly over sixty-five, and special needs adults through the Holiday Angels program. Applications for assistance are still being accepted for the program until November 30.
Holiday Angels work with other family service providers to help support a maximum number of clients while working to limit duplication of services. Sponsors include church groups, clubs, businesses, families, and individuals. This program is self-supporting and operates solely with donations and sponsors. All monetary donations, toys, and other donations go directly to needy families.
Holiday Angels will match sponsors with a needy family or individual in early December. Sponsors and donations are still needed for this year’s Holiday Angels program.
Whether someone or a group wants to help one child or 20 children, an elderly person, or a special needs adult, sponsors receive their family information by the first week of December. Sponsors will be matched following their preferences as close as possible and can shop, wrap, and deliver gifts to their family or bring gifts to MPP by December 12 and delivery will be arranged.
Holiday Angels also accepts tax-deductible donations; checks for donations should be made payable to MPP Holiday Angels, PO Box 700, Franklin, NC 28744.
Eligible families must provide valid proof of all household income for the year and meet Federal Poverty guidelines.
For more details, including how to apply for assistance, make a donation or be a sponsor, contact MPP. If you have questions, you may contact Felicia Roberts, MPP Family & Outreach Specialist, or a member of the Holiday Angels committee at (828) 524-4471 ext. 406. Applications are available at MPP main office, 82 East Orchard View Lane, behind LOWES of Franklin. MPP office hours are 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Monday thru Friday.
Toys for Tots
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Toys for Tots program. Toys for Tots was founded by a United States Marine Corps reservist in 1947 as a way to make sure underprivileged children received toys at Christmas.
Since then, the U.S. Marine Corps has sponsored the program which collects new, unwrapped toys during October, November and December each year. The toys collected are distributed as Christmas gifts to less fortunate children in the community in which the campaign is conducted. The program’s goal is to deliver, through a new toy at Christmas, a message of hope to less fortunate youngsters that will assist them in becoming responsible, productive, patriotic citizens.
This year, 828 Vets is taking over and will operate the local program moving forward. Prior to 2021, Smoky Mountain Toys for Tots was headquartered in Franklin; however, the Toys for Tots Programs served families in Macon, Jackson, Swain, Haywood, and Rabun counties. Because it is 828 Vets’ first year taking over the program, they have scaled down to just Macon County to get off the ground.
In 2021, the local chapter of Toys for Tots sponsored 762 children by distributing 3,933 toys to children in Western North Carolina. 2021 was also more the first time in the local program’s history that a new coordinating agency handled distribution. The Franklin Chamber of Commerce volunteered to take on the program last year when the program might not have otherwise occurred.
Local toy collection campaigns began in October and lasts until mid to late December. Toy distribution also takes place mid to late December. Members of the community drop new, unwrapped toys in collection boxes positioned in local businesses. Coordinators pick up the toys and store them in central warehouses where the toys are sorted by age and gender.
Drop-off boxes for new, unwrapped toys are located in several local stores, including the Macon County Detention Center and Macon County Sheriff’s Office Annex in town. Suggested donations include games, any building or constructing toys, puzzles, STEM toys, and anything for the 0-2 ages.
For more information about 828 Vets Toys for Tots, email Coordinator Jack Brennan at JB@828Vets.com. or visit the Toys for Tots website at smokymt.toysfortots.org.
I Love My Town Christmas
Every December, the Discover Church expands its “I Love My Town” initiative, a community focused effort, to provide Christmas gifts and practical items to foster and underprivileged children and families. For its “I Love My Town Christmas,” program, the church partners with Macon and Jackson County Department of Social Services, Swain Family Resource Center, MPP, and schools in Macon and Graham counties and Rabun County, Georgia to help provide Christmas to those who may go without.
The church’s goal for the program is to be sure no children are left out during Christmas. To identify children in the area who need help, the church reaches out to local principals and school counselors and gets names of children and families who might go without Christmas presents. The schools provide information about the children such as clothing and shoe sizes and a particular gift or interest they may have.
Instead of having regular service, the congregation spend a few minutes worshipping together, then choose an ornament with information about the children and go shop for that child. Gifts are given to the parents so they can wrap and give the gifts on Christmas.
I Love My Town Christmas takes place December 4 for both services at 9:15 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. For more information contact Discover Church.
REACH’S 2022 Adopt-A-Family
REACH of Macon County, a non-profit service provider for victims of domestic violence and/or sexual assault, is looking for help this Christmas season. The holiday season is an especially difficult time of year for many families, but the folks at REACH of Macon County are hoping that the community can come together to make this Christmas a little more special for the families having to spend the holiday in their shelter. Each Christmas, the shelter provides Christmas for the families that are spending the holidays in the shelter.
Individuals or groups can choose to sponsor a REACH family and make a difference in a big way. Those who choose to help out with this year’s Adopt-A-Family program and adopt will be assigned a family and given all necessary information such as ages, sizes and a “wish list” of wants and needs. Anything provided will be greatly appreciated and will help to ensure a joyous holiday for survivors at REACH.
Please bring all unwrapped items to the REACH office at 29 Meadowlark Drive, Franklin. For more information call (828) 369-5544
Buy a Tree, Change a Life
Since the day after Thanksgiving, Buy A Tree. Change a Life. (BATCAL), sponsored locally by Prentiss Church, has been selling Christmas trees at a tree lot at Crabtree General Store to benefit children in need globally as well as locally. The simple purchase of a Christmas tree can help to feed and cloth children around the world and also in the local community.
BATCAL is a non-profit organization founded in 2012 to help children globally and locally. All proceeds raised during the project go directly to efforts chosen by area hosts. Last year BATCAL raised over $33,000 and was able to bless several projects in the community with over $2,000 each including Shop with A Cop, Pregnancy Care Center, KIDS Place, Union Academy and South Macon Elementary.
In addition to helping local charities, BATCAL funds the ongoing ministry efforts of Prentiss Church in Cambodia. BATCAL funds building projects, clothing, food, education, the needs of orphans, and more in Cambodia which has struggled with poverty for decades.
Fraser fir trees, purchased regionally when possible, are paid for by donated funds from individuals and businesses. Business sponsorship are still needed; to sponsor this worthwhile charity contact Prentiss Church at (828) 369-3885. Although BATCAL is a Christmas season-focused fundraiser, donations may be made year-round. For more information, visit www.buyatreechangealife.com.
Shop With A Cop
For close to 30 years, the Macon County Sheriff’s Office has sponsored Shop with a Cop, a program created to give Christmas to the less fortunate youth in Macon County. The event is made possible through the tremendous outpouring of community support and generosity.
Each year, up to 300 children from Macon County are treated to a day of Christmas fun filled with shopping, food and a visit with Santa Claus. Youth are given $100 gift cards to spend on anything they wanted with the stipulation that they purchase one gift for someone else. The children spend the money on clothes, toys, food or whatever they want to buy; sometimes a child may even decide to use all the money to buy gifts for others.
Following the shopping trip to Walmart and other area businesses, youth were taken to the Drake Education Center where volunteers helped them wrap their gifts and have their picture taken with Santa.
In mid-December, over 100 volunteers gather to make this event an annual success. Volunteers from several local groups including the sheriff’s office, police, fire, emergency services, social services, schools, forest service, wildlife and many others are paired with Macon County needy children for an afternoon of shopping and Christmas fun.
Volunteers are needed for the program. If anyone is interested in volunteering for this year’s shop with a cop contact Dani Burrows by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling her office at (828) 349-2107 or contact Cassie Shuler at email@example.com or (828) 200-2243.
The Shop with a Cop program is entirely funded by donations from the local community, with no tax dollars used to fund the event. Donations for the program are accepted all year and can be made by sending your donation to Shop with a Cop Program, c/o Macon County Sheriff, 1820 Lakeside Drive, Franklin, NC 28734.
Fishes & Loaves Food Pantry
Fishes & Loaves Food Pantry, Inc. is a non-profit corporation established in 2005 by six Cashiers area churches. During the holidays, the organization distributes holiday dinner items at their donation center at 549 Frank Allen Road, Cashiers, in Jackson County directly behind the Cashiers Volunteer Fire Department
In addition to the organization’s regularly scheduled Monday and Thursday food box distributions, Fishes & Loaves distributes holiday dinner items in Jackson County. Acting as a special holiday food pantry serving individuals and families in all areas of Jackson County, the surrounding areas in Western North Carolina, and beyond, Fishes & Loaves distribute holiday meals for Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas each year.
The holiday dinner items include: turkey or ham, potatoes, canned vegetables, onion, yams, cranberry sauce, rolls and an apple or pumpkin pie.
Holiday dinner items and regularly scheduled food boxes will be distributed at the Fishes & Loaves Food Pantry from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Monday and Thursday preceding the holiday.
The community can help to alleviate food insecurity in Jackson County and the surrounding areas by donating to the organization. As a local food donation center, Fishes & Loaves Food Pantry accepts all generous support and appreciates any time, food or money that is donated.
Items that can be donated to the donation center in Jackson County include non-perishable food items and personal care products with the expiration date. The center also accepts financial donations. Farmers can donate fresh produce. People and farmers can drop off fresh produce and other perishable foods such as meats, vegetable, fruits and eggs when the pantry is open on Monday and Thursday from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Donations can be dropped off at Fishes & Loaves Food Pantry. There is a donation box on the front porch where you can drop off non-perishable foods and/or personal care products within the expiration date when the pantry is closed. If items are too large for the box, please place the items on the front porch near the box. There is a donations mailbox next to the front door where people can leave their monetary donations.
The Christmas Connection, a non-profit organization, brings delight to countless children throughout Jackson County each year through the provision of new Christmas gifts. This is a large task that requires the goodwill of both donors and volunteers alike uniting throughout the year to truly give every child and every family a Merry Christmas.
Created in 1989 as Jackson Christmas Store and transitioned to new ownership in 2014, the Christmas Connection of Jackson County seeks to provide Christmas to local children in need through the donation of presents. With 25% of Jackson County children falling under the poverty line, a large portion of youth in the community will not receive gifts this year. However, the Christmas Connection is working to change that one child at a time.
Beginning in September, the Christmas Connection receives referrals from social service agencies, schools and churches. No self-referrals are accepted.
Once the need has been verified, the family is entered into a database and asked to complete information about each child, such as clothing sizes and desired toys. Families are also asked to identify if there are any special needs. Sometimes families identify items, such as coats, that are not generally part of the Christmas Connection’s provisions, but the charity tries to meet special needs where possible.
Unlike Toys for Tots® or The Salvation Army, the Christmas Connection seeks to involve the children and parents in the gift choosing process by sending out wish lists and allowing parents to choose many of the gifts their child will receive. In this way, they are going beyond simply providing free toys. Instead, they are working together with the families in the community to bring Christmas presents to the children.
Completely volunteer-run, Christmas Connection gives 100% of received donations to children across Jackson County, from Cashiers to Sylva to Cherokee. Currently, the organization serves about 750 children, yet they would like to serve more because of the immense need.
While children and their needs are being identified, the Christmas Connection solicits support from the community. The totally volunteer-run charity depends on community members to do three things: sponsor (a child or children); donate (money and items); and volunteer.
Volunteers are the backbone of the Christmas Connection. Hundreds of individuals from schools, churches, service organizations and businesses rally together to ensure that no child in Jackson County goes without a Christmas present.
For more information, contact the Christmas Connection at (828) 399-1216 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. To donate to the program, mail checks to The Christmas Connection, P.O. Box 250, Webster, NC 28788. Applications for the program can be picked up at the Jackson County Department of Social Services.
The Christmas Connection is a collaborative partner of Jackson County Family Resource Center, a unit of Southwestern Child Development Commission.
Christmas Break Food Bag Project
United Christian Ministries (UCM) of Jackson County is a non-profit crisis ministry designed to provide aid and advocacy for people with urgent physical, economic, social and spiritual needs. The ministry’s goal for the Christmas holidays is to make sure no family goes hungry at Christmas. While the ministry provides a food pantry, personal items, and financial assistance for essential bills to residents of Jackson County year-round, it is currently working on its annual Christmas Break Food Bag project. The collection for the Christmas Break Food Bag project is now underway.
The group creates large bags of food for Jackson County schoolchildren in need. Each bag will contain canned green beans, corn, condensed soup, SpaghettiOs, macaroni & cheese cups, fruit cups, granola bars, peanut butter, jelly, ramen, hot chocolate mix and cereal. Donations of any of these items would be greatly appreciated. Donations may be brought to the UCM building or placed in the UCM donation carts inside Food Lion or Harold’s Supermarket.
The bags will be sent home with the kids just before the long holiday break. This year the group plans to make 500 bags this year which are often a blessing to many families who struggle with food insecurity.
Volunteers will fill bags at the First United Methodist Church in Sylva from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on December 17. To volunteer for the “bag packing party,” email UCM with your name, the number in your group and what time you would like to help.
For more information about UCM and the Christmas Break Food Bag project call (828) 586-8228, email email@example.com or visit the ministry’s website at www.ucmhelp.com. Donations can be made to United Christian Ministries of Jackson County, Inc., P.O. Box 188, Sylva, NC 28779.
UCM is a non-profit ministry and relies on donations of food and funding from the community, churches, businesses, civic organizations, and grants. UCM accepts donations of in-date food, personal toiletry items, and household cleaning items.
2022 Christmas Cheer
Christmas Cheer is a holiday program for Swain County families not able financially to provide Christmas for their children. The program is sponsored by the Family Resource Center located in Bryson City. The Family Resource Center is accepting applications for the 2022 Christmas Cheer Program.
Program qualifications are applicant must be a Swain County resident, must have custody of child and that child lives with him/her full time, and there is a financial inability to provide any gifts for the child. Applicants must also not receive any other Christmas assistance from any other agency, school, church or program.
Ages of participants are newborn to 12th grade, and him/her must be enrolled in Swain County Schools.
Applicants must apply in person by appointment only at the Family Resource Center located at 300 Hughes Branch Road, Bryson City. Please call (828) 488-7505 to schedule an appointment. To expedite the interview/application process bring with your children’s clothing sizes if needed and the child’s toy request.
The final available appointment slots are November 29 & 30 and December 1 & 6 from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. On Thursday, December 1, the center will have additional time slots available from 4:00 pm. to 6:00 p.m. Contact the Family Resource Center for requirements or if you have any questions about the program.