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Debbie Henderson is one of the community volunteers who helps to organize Share the Joy, a holiday gift-giving project located at the Yellow Springs Library that provides gifts for needy villagers. See page 4 for details. (Photo by Jeff Simons)

Debbie Henderson is one of the community volunteers who helps to organize Share the Joy, a holiday gift-giving project located at the Yellow Springs Library that provides gifts for needy villagers. See page 4 for details. (Photo by Jeff Simons)

Villagers share the holiday spirit

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Over the years Christmas has gotten a bad rap. Maybe it’s those herds of Walmart shoppers stampeding into the stores on Black Friday, snatching TVs and videos off the racks and battling their way out with their booty. Or those display ads in the Sunday New York Times featuring $30,000 watches and zillion dollar diamonds—those holiday gifts “she’ll treasure forever.” Regretfully, the Christmas season has morphed into a super-charged shopping spree, a last ditch, end-of-year rally designed to jolt some life back into a lackluster economy.

But here in Yellow Springs, a group of volunteers has rekindled the spirit of the season.

This month—as in many Decembers past—people in town have the opportunity to go to the Yellow Springs library and “Share the Joy” of giving to those most in need.

What began more than 20 years ago with a small group of local volunteers collecting fruit baskets for low-income families has evolved into a program—Share the Joy—whereby struggling families in Yellow Springs can request essential gifts for themselves and their children.

“There’s a certain craziness to the Christmas season,” said Kate Anderson, one of the Share the Joy volunteers. “I see this program as something we’re called upon to do for each other. And in a small town like Yellow Springs, it’s easy to make happen.”

Ann Cooper, the Yellow Springs Youth Services Librarian, said the volunteers who run the program provide a slip of paper—a tag—that people can fill out anonymously at the library to make requests for holiday assistance. People who live in Yellow Springs or Miami Township may ask for gifts for themselves or their children who are under 18.

Share the Joy volunteers take those requests, organize them, and then write each request on the tag that’s hung from a small Christmas tree in the library.

“Let’s say you have a family with a three- year-old girl who wants a particular kind of a doll,” Cooper said. “The child’s name is not written on the tag. All that’s written is ‘Girl. Three-years old. Doll.’ That’s it. But the volunteers have a code so that they can give the right gifts to the right people.

“The people who wish to purchase gifts find those tags on the tree. They choose the ones they wish to purchase. Then they go buy the gifts, wrap them, and return them to the library with that tag taped to the outside of the package. The volunteers looking at the coded tags know which family gets which gift. The volunteers call the families and tell them to come to a designated place and time to receive their gifts,” Cooper said.

Although the Yellow Springs library doesn’t keep track of the families requesting gifts or the number of gifts that are purchased and dispensed, Cooper said she’s impressed with the amount of generosity within the Yellow Springs community.

“Sometimes the requests are very touching,” she said.

“One of my favorites was one year somebody had a little girl who was interested in sewing. She wanted a sewing kit. Whoever took that tag had a blast assembling this wonderful collection of materials for a little girl to learn how to sew.”

One of the long-term Share the Joy volunteers, Juanita Richardson, has been involved in the program since its inception.

The program began as a spinoff of a fruit basket program sponsored by St. Paul Catholic church, Richardson said.

“From time to time I would hear about people who had needs for different things—food or whatever,” she said. “And one time a person purchased a coat for a little girl. That little girl was so happy and so filled with joy that it caught fire.”

That young girl was so pleased with her gift that she wanted to have a gift-giving tree at the library so other needy children could have a place to receive gifts, Richardson said.

Richardson speculated that the library has hosted the Share the Joy program and its accompanying gift tagged mini-Christmas tree since the mid-1980s.

“If it wasn’t for the generosity of the community we wouldn’t be able to have this program,” she said. “What’s so wonderful is when you see a parent come in with their child and their child chooses a tag from the tree so that their child can learn the gift of giving and doing something for other people.”

Kate Anderson shares those sentiments.

“It just feels good,” she said. “It’s heartfelt stuff. And it’s what we’re called to do. I guess you might say it’s my love work.”

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