A local group of volunteers is stepping up to ensure Christmas happens for Johnson County families in need.
Earlier this year, Johnson County Angel Tree announced that it would not be operating for the 2023 holiday season. Sensing a void in the community, Board President Sarah Smidt said numerous residents came together to create Johnson County Operation Christmas Cheer. Things have just “fallen into place” as the volunteers figure out logistics, find businesses to host Christmas trees filled with gift requests, and help families get signed up for assistance.
Two in-person sign-ups have already happened, and two more are scheduled for 1 to 7 p.m. Oct. 22 and 1 to 7 p.m. Oct. 26 at 609 E. Young Ave. Suite A5 in Warrensburg. Applications will be accepted until Nov. 6.
Families that want to sign up must bring proof of Johnson County residency, such as a photo ID, copy of a lease or a current utility bill, and proof of need, like an EBT card, WIC card, child’s Medicaid card or a recent pay stub. Smidt said that if a family cannot present those items, they are encouraged to contact Christmas Cheer anyway, as families are approved on a case-by-case basis.
So far, nearly 100 kids are signed up, and with two more sign-up days, Smidt said she’s anticipating at least 200 children.
“Maybe more because word seems to be spreading this week. I’ve gotten a lot of emails and calls this week,” Smidt told the Star-Journal on Thursday, Oct. 19. “There is a lot of need and we’re trying our best to step up and help fill that void.”
Christmas trees will be placed at businesses throughout Johnson County, ready for residents to select a child to shop for. Donors will look through the child’s wish list and pick out some gifts – and maybe even a few things that aren’t on the list. Shoppers will drop off their purchased gifts at Christmas Cheer’s headquarters, and volunteers will ensure the items are age-appropriate and then wrap them. Families will return to Christmas Cheer for distribution day to receive a bag of wrapped toys for their children.
Smidt said plenty of volunteers are helping Christmas Cheer, and several organizations have already committed to helping wrap the presents. However, she said more assistance and donations will always be accepted, whether that is another group that wants to help wrap presents – with an estimated 200 kids getting potentially two to four presents each, that’s easily 800 gifts to wrap – or providing financial donations to help cover the nonprofit’s costs or any children who aren’t adopted from the Christmas trees. Donations of wrapping paper would also be appreciated. Businesses can also volunteer to host a tree.
“Since it’s our first year, we’re starting from scratch,” Smidt noted. “It adds up quick. It’s definitely a big undertaking.”
Smidt said every volunteer has a different “why” for helping with Christmas Cheer. For her, it’s continuing a beloved holiday tradition on a much larger scale.
“For me, it’s because I remember adopting those kids off the tree; it was a Christmas tradition,” she said. “I’d pick someone close to my age. Looking back, it might’ve been someone I was in class with. We’d go to the store and pick things off their list and things kids might like. For me, it’s a Christmas tradition. My background, I used to work in a church in Henry County. I worked with community members and saw the need and the last few years have been hard for everyone. It is important for me to give back when I can. Keep that Christmas tradition in our community going.”
For Sharon, the group’s vice president, she’s seen the other side of Angel Tree. Smidt said she was a foster parent for years and utilized Angel Tree as a resource to provide a merry Christmas for the children living in her home. Heather, who is handling public relations, worked in food service for the Warrensburg School District and has seen the community need through her work with the free and reduced lunch program. Tia works with Children’s Services and knows some of these families need community help to make Christmas happen.
“The whys are different, but we all have a heart for our community and want to see people enjoy the holidays and not worry about whether their kid will go to school and have fun things to talk about from Christmas,” Smidt said.
Smidt said they appreciate the community’s support and welcomed ideas from the public. With Christmas Cheer in its first season, the volunteers are open to feedback regarding how people would like to help or contribute.
“We’re starting from the ground up this year,” she added. “Our main concern is that Christmas is magical for everybody. And that we don’t have folks in our community falling through the cracks.”
Smidt noted that Christmas Cheer is operating for the 2023 holiday season and is in limbo regarding 2024 plans until Angel Tree announces if it plans to return next year. She said if Angel Tree has ended permanently, Christmas Cheer will continue to fill that need. If Angel Tree returns, Christmas Cheer will find a new way to help during the holidays.
For more information, email email@example.com. Monetary donations can be mailed to PO Box 103, Knob Noster, MO 65336.
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138.