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Christmas For All prepares to spread joy again
Nov 21, 2012 4:30 pm
Like Santa, nothing stops Alan Ricketts of Wilson Bank & Trust from fulfilling his duty. Despite recent knee surgery, he is again heading up the annual Christmas For All event in the county.
And he is determined no child in need will wake up on Christmas morning without a toy under the tree.
With Thanksgiving soon to pass, it's full speed ahead for CFA, which serves as a sort of North Pole for the county during Christmas, coordinating efforts between volunteers, people who want to give and agencies who have lists of needy children.
"We had our volunteer dinner last Thursday evening," Ricketts said, adding things really pick up for CFA once the volunteers receive orientation.
"We serve as a clearing house for those who apply for help with the Department of Human Services, Big Brothers of Mt. Juliet and the Watertown Angel Tree Program," Ricketts said. "Nothing has changed this year. Applications are still distributed at the DHS office, but the big office has moved into the strip mall next to Cici's Pizza. Our applications are there. In Watertown it's still at the WB&T; it's the most centrally located place there."
CFA takes, and welcomes, toys for children, but they can serve more people when they connect children with sponsors. A sponsor can be a church, individual or civic organization that contacts CFA and commits to buying for as many children as they can afford.
"Our primary goal is to place those in need with a sponsor," he said. "That way we can spend our money on the kids without sponsors. We like money, toys and gifts, but we like sponsors more. If a child is placed with a sponsor we can check them off the list. We only served about 300 more kids last year than we did in 2009, however we had about 400 fewer sponsored kids. We want to plug them in with some person or group that can help them."
Despite signs of life in the economy, Ricketts anticipates a lot of kids will apply for help at various organizations. He hopes that the recovering economy will prompt people to give a bit more to Christmas charities like CFA.
While CFA prefers sponsors, they want cash as well so it can cover the children whose names are not taken by a sponsor. When a child is put on the list their application includes their age and sex. The volunteers at CFA are experienced at determining what will please a boy or a girl.
"Oh yes, we'll take your money; we'll take any help we can get. Primarily we want people or businesses to adopt a kid or kids. I've already taken several phone calls here at the bank. If you leave a message, we'll get back to you," he said, adding already a business, a local homeowners association and retired Sheriff Terry Ashe have contacted him about helping out.
Cash donations can be tough for some, so CFA warehouse for toy donations will open after Thanksgiving. Besides toys and cash, CFA also needs more willing hands.
"Last year, we needed more volunteers," Ricketts said. "We need more manpower, typically when the warehouse opens this year on Nov. 26. They will sort toys."
Toy donations should be be unused and unwrapped. Volunteers will sort the toys and determine which boy or girl for each is appropriate. Ricketts said the local Marine Corps Toys for Tots toy drive brings the toys donated to CFA to see that they are distributed to kids in the county.
"Any time you drop a toy in their box in Lebanon or Watertown, they come to us because we have the infrastructure to distribute those toys locally," he said. "The Marine Corps loves that, and they continue to be a valuable partner of ours."
Some parents ask for clothes for their children, but CFA is more about the toys. Ricketts said clothes are needed, but no child gets excited about clothes on Christmas morning. After all, Christmas is a time when it's all about the children.
"There are coat drives and other venues for clothes," he said. "We're more about accommodating a kid's wants."
Ricketts also wants everyone to know CFA doesn't deliver toys.
"We don't drive the toys to the kids; they come to us and pick them up," he said. "The application has a responsible parent or guardian listed, so they can come in for their toys."
CFA also works to get food for the elderly in need at Christmas.
"The Crossroads Church over at the Mill is committed to making 300 food boxes. Randy Cook is the minister; he doesn't like the publicity, but if not for them, we'd be in a world of hurt," Ricketts said. "We have the application process down for the kids, for the elderly. I'd ask that anyone who knows a senior who needs help call the office and get them on our list."
Ricketts is only one man with an overwhelming job. But if he is Santa, his band of volunteers are his elves.
"I'm looking for volunteers to help us. We have some good and loyal volunteers," he said. "As our demand increases the need for people increases as well.
Overall, Ricketts is impressed by the generosity of Wilson County residents.
"We have the good nature and giving of the community," he said. "I grew up here; you don't realize that giving nature until you're involved in something like this and you can really see it. A lot of people don't realize the need. There's a lot of need but there's also a lot of people who are willing to step up."
Last year, CFA moved from the Wilson County Fairgrounds to the Westland United Methodist Church at 110 Dawson Lane in Lebanon, and Ricketts said the new location worked out great. The CFA office is now open. To volunteer services as an elf, for more information or instructions about dropping off donations, call 615-547-1106. The warehouse for CFA toy donations will be open Wednesday, the same day the organization is planning an open house and volunteer orientation. Cash or checks can be mailed to Christmas For All, P.O. Box 922, Lebanon, TN 37088.
"We've got a lot of good people in Wilson County who will step up and help," he concluded. "I've got an easy sell — it's kids, and it's Christmas."
Staff writer Mary Hinds may be reached at 615-444-3952, ext. 45 or email@example.com.