Charities working to make Christmas brighter

by W. Winston Skinner

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Sara Levie, of the Salvation Army board, attends a Christmas committee meeting with Fred Miles (right), who is spearheading the countertop kettle project locally.

With Christmas a little over a month away, officials with local non-profits that provide help at the holidays are busy.

'We're covered up,' said Alison Wallace, executive director of Bridging the Gap. 'We know the community can help us do this.'

Increasingly, leaders at charities are not only busy planning and putting holiday projects together, they are also working together. Wallace and Stephanie May, who directs the local Salvation Army service center, are one example.

The two are collaborating - sharing information on clients who seek assistance with Christmas for their children. 'We are sharing data so nobody will be double dipping,' Wallace said.

Wallace said the two groups are sharing information with the Newnan Housing Authority and other outreach organizations in the community. Bridging the Gap will even serve as the distribution point for the Salvation Army's Angel Tree project this year.

Both Wallace and May are looking for volunteers as the time until Christmas narrows. Wallace is asking area churches to step forward to provide gifts for children who live within two miles of their buildings, and May is hoping local residents will volunteer to ring bells for the Salvation Army's annual Red Kettle drive.

'I have got to get help with Christmas. We have maxed out already,' Wallace said Friday. She said the signup for Christmas in Coweta, originally scheduled to be up through Nov. 15, was coming off the BTG website because the organization is committed as far as it can go without more churches participating.

Christmas in Coweta involves churches purchasing gifts for children who live near them. BTG screens applicants and passes the information along to the churches. The church provides the gifts and invites children to a service - connecting the child's family with a nearby congregation.

'Our biggest goal is to get the children into the churches,' Wallace said.

'Community Christian Church has committed to 600 children,' Wallace said. That number includes children who are members of churches that are not participating in Christmas in Coweta.

'We do not want to send a member of one church to somebody else's church,' she said.

In addition to Community Christian, churches signed on to participate are Central Baptist Church, Crossroads Church, First Baptist Church of Moreland, First Baptist Church of Newnan, Newnan Presbyterian Church, Southcrest Church and Trinity Fellowship.

'We are looking for churches who will commit to the children who live in their neighborhood. Even if it's just 10 children, that's going to be a great help,' Wallace said.

BTG also is seeking to help two other underserved groups at the holidays - grandparents rearing their grandchildren and teenagers.

BTG is spearheading efforts to get gift cards from movie theaters and stores where teens like to shop for Christmas. The other large-scale projects to provide gifts at Christmas in Coweta do not serve children older than 12.

Wallace said each gift card will be put on a list, and a parent will have to sign for the card 'so everyone is accountable.'

So far, BTG is committed to helping 1,116 children this year. Last year, BTG helped 1,300 children, and Wallace expects the number to rise before Christmas.

Wallace said people do not need to bring toys to BTG, since the actual purchase of toys is being done by churches. People who want to send contributions to help with the overall project or to purchase gift cards for teens should send checks to: BTG, P.O. Box 223, Newnan, GA 30264. The memo line should read: CIC.

Representatives of churches wishing to participate in Christmas in Coweta should call Wallace at 678-650-4571 or email btgministry@gmail.com.

The Salvation Army's Red Kettle campaign is that ministry's biggest fundraiser of the year. An iconic image at the holidays, the red kettles filled with coins and bills provide tangible help for Coweta families.

Anyone interested in volunteering to ring bells at a kettle should call the Salvation Army at 770-251-8181. Volunteers are asked to commit to two consecutive hours.

Families, clubs, Sunday school groups and others can ring together. A background check is run for each volunteer age 18 and up. Younger folks can ring only under an adult's supervision.

'This is about our community. Any citizen who is willing to give that time - to have that experience, standing on the corner ringing for the Salvation Army - they're welcome to do that,' said Bette Hickman, chairman of the local advisory board.

The Salvation Army is using a brochure to promote the kettle drive this year, and there will be 23 countertop kettles, standalone units that can sit on a store counter.

The Salvation Army's Angel Tree program has lists of wishes on trees at Cracker Barrel and Belk. People take the lists, purchase the toys, and the Salvation Army will distribute the gifts the week of Dec. 18 at Bridging the Gap's offices.

'I see the clients. They come to me for assistance,' May said - explaining how families get on the Angel Tree list.

Local residents get names from the trees at Belk and Cracker Barrel.

'Large companies will call me and say they want to adopt 50 names,' May added.

The local service center on Jefferson Street has 14 kettles. Bellringing will start the week before Thanksgiving in some spots. There will be seven primary locations and seven others that will be manned as volunteers allow. A 'Fill the Truck' event will be held at Walmart on Dec. 14. 'As people are walking into Walmart' that day, they can pick up a flier with suggestions, May said.

The idea is for each shopper to purchase one item while shopping and then 'bring it out and put it in the truck,' she said. 'We have the entire day to try to get our truck filled with toys. It can be clothing. It can be shoes, socks, umderwear.'



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