Village Life
Volunteer Juanita Richardson recently inspected the Share the Joy Christmas tree at the Yellow Springs Library, which is decorated with gift requests from needy local families. Villagers can fulfill gift requests by taking a tag and returning a wrapped gift to the library no later than 6 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 16. All donors and recipients remain anonymous. (Photo by Megan Bachman)

Volunteer Juanita Richardson recently inspected the Share the Joy Christmas tree at the Yellow Springs Library, which is decorated with gift requests from needy local families. Villagers can fulfill gift requests by taking a tag and returning a wrapped gift to the library no later than 6 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 16. All donors and recipients remain anonymous. (Photo by Megan Bachman)

Two ways to share in the holidays

While it took several hauntings for Ebenezer Scrooge to transform from a stingy miser to a charitable giver in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, villagers have already embodied the holiday spirit this season with generous donations of food and gifts to two long-time local projects — the Share the Joy gift tree and the Yellow Springs Community Food Pantry. For those looking to avoid the Ghost of Christmas Future, donations are still being accepted.

“There are still Scrooges around — I don’t think things change that much,” said Share the Joy volunteer Olga Harris last week. “There are people in town who have and it’s good for them to give to people who have not.”

“We have a generous community, that’s for sure,” added food pantry organizer Patti McAllister. “This time of year the giving goes up and so does the need.”

Sharing the joy

For more than 20 years, the Share the Joy project has sought to meet the holiday needs of those in Yellow Springs and Miami Township through an anonymous gift exchange.

It works like this: Local adults who have a need — gifts for their children, for instance — submit gift requests to a box at the Yellow Springs Public Library. The requests are put on tags and posted, without the family’s name, on a Christmas tree at the library. Villagers can then take a tag and purchase a gift, which will be given anonymously to the family.

Requested items may include toys, books, clothing, recorded music and sports equipment for children. Adults can additionally ask for clothing or food for themselves. Gift requests must be made by Saturday, Dec. 10, while shoppers purchasing gifts must bring them, wrapped, to the library no later than 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 16.

Those looking for coats or boots are directed to the Yellow Springs Police Station, which annually provides those items for needy villagers.

As of last week, unfulfilled tags included a radio, a doll, board games, roller skates and a wagon. Perusing the tags, librarian Ann Cooper saw one for a 12-year-old who wants a dress.

“How can you not want to help out with that?” Cooper asked. Recalling a woman thrilled to buy a sewing kit for a little girl, she said that those who purchase gifts are often as gratified as those who receive them.

“I think even though we’ve gotten tired of the commercial element of the holiday season, for many there’s a strong and deep desire to celebrate in a generous way,” Cooper said.

Long-time project volunteer Juanita Richardson remembered one family in tears when delivering their gifts.

“They said it made it the best Christmas ever to shop for people,” Richardson said. “It’s just a wonderful feeling.”

Richardson has participated in the Share the Joy project from its beginning. While delivering holiday fruit baskets to Lawson Place residents from St. Paul Catholic Church, Richardson, her husband Paul, and Mary Ann Bebko would learn of other holiday needs. They began purchasing gifts and additional food for these families through an anonymous tree at the church, which was moved to the library at the suggestion of a parishioner. Now around 20 families each year receive gifts from charitable villagers, while about 60 people still accept fruit baskets from the church on Christmas Eve.

“It just makes me happy to be able to make other people happy,” Richardson said of her longtime involvement. “It gives me warm fuzzies.”

Richardson has many stories of grateful recipients and satisfied donors throughout the years. Villagers shop with their children to teach them the importance of altruism. A Friends Care resident, lacking mobility, gives Richardson money to purchase a gift. An especially generous villager purchases a bicycle for a child. One recipient says that the gifts will be the only ones under her tree.

The cycle of giving and receiving is inspiring to Richardson. A recipient one year is a donor the next. A woman brings Richardson flowers as a thank-you for her gift. Later that night, while delivering gifts, Richardson finds a woman sleeping in a parked car who recently lost her child and passes the flowers on to her.

“We realized we were really hitting a nerve,” Harris said of the project while watching villagers excitedly deliver their presents. “We get a lot of thank-yous and congratulations.”

For more information, contact Cooper at the Yellow Springs Library at 937-352-4003, extension 8330.

Food pantry volunteers Jean Shook, Patti McAllister, Jackie Hammond, Don Rudolf and Don Fulton put away donated items this week at the Yellow Springs Community Food Pantry in the basement of the Methodist Church. Demand for food and household goods at the pantry rises during th holiday season, and so do community donations. (Photo by Megan Bachman)

Food pantry volunteers Jean Shook, Patti McAllister, Jackie Hammond, Don Rudolf and Don Fulton put away donated items this week at the Yellow Springs Community Food Pantry in the basement of the Methodist Church. Demand for food and household goods at the pantry rises during th holiday season, and so do community donations. (Photo by Megan Bachman)

Food for the holidays

Families requesting items through Share the Joy are also alerted to the Yellow Springs Community Food Pantry, which provides free food and household goods year-round for residents of Yellow Springs and Miami Township on a bi-weekly and emergency basis.

The pantry is open on the second and fourth Thursday of the month from 2 to 4 p.m. in the basement of the Yellow Springs United Methodist Church. In addition, those who need food in an emergency can contact McAllister at 937-767-7560.

Demand at the pantry typically rises during the holiday season, and this year, more families than ever are already coming for the donated products, according to McAllister. During 2011, 30 families on average  use the pantry, twice as many as the previous year. Some weeks as many as 40 families have lined up. Thankfully, McAllister said, villagers give more during the holiday season as well.

“We have a lot of generous giving from the community as well as all of the businesses,” McAllister said. “The community is very open and willing to help whatever way they can. I get more calls [to volunteer] than I need.”

Community members interested in donating can bring non-perishable food and goods to the church, or send a check made out to the Yellow Springs Methodist Church with “food pantry” in the memo to 202 South Winter Street, Yellow Springs, OH 45387.

The pantry is in desperate need of cleaning and paper products, because the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program available to low-income households, previously known as Food Stamps, doesn’t cover these taxable goods. Items such as toilet paper, paper towels, laundry detergent, dish soap and toiletries like shampoo and razors are always in high demand.

The late Mary Ann Bebko, also behind the Share the Joy project, started the food pantry in her garage. It moved to the United Methodist Church six years ago.

“It’s a mission that has been carried on from Mary Ann and it has grown and it’s very appreciated by everyone who is a recipient,” said McAllister, who now runs the pantry.

Since then local church and community members have donated most of the canned fruits, vegetables, soups, boxed meals, pastas and other goods available in the pantry from their own cupboards. During the growing season, some local farmers donate fresh produce as well. Expired food items, medications and vitamins are not accepted.

McAllister said she is especially touched when recipients become donors as their finances improve.

“They turn around and donate, they return it when they can,” she said.

However villagers choose to give back during the holidays, it’s clear that many are stepping up to meet growing needs for gifts, clothing and food during a tough economic time.

“I don’t think there’s a single angel out there,” Cooper said of Share the Joy. “There are a lot of people doing this.”

 

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