Most everyone has a favorite part of the holiday season. For some, it’s the tradition of sharing a holiday meal with friends and family. For others, it’s the look on their children’s faces as they unwrap gifts from Santa Claus.

Toys and turkeys can get expensive, though. Especially in the current economy, some High Country residents will struggle to provide the basics, as well as holiday gifts and food, to their families. That’s where the other spirit of the season comes in: the spirit of giving of oneself. Listed below are a few organizations that are working to make the holidays easier for families and individuals in need—and what you can do to help.

Santa’s Toy Box

In 1986, Deerfield United Methodist Church started collecting used toys for underprivileged families. The toy drive immediately took off, but many of the toys had broken or missing pieces and couldn’t be used.

By the late 1990s, church members started sending letters to the chamber of commerce, accepting donations from local merchants and purchasing new toys throughout the year.

Today, “a core group of six or seven people” makes up Santa’s Toy Box, volunteer Helen Hurst said—and they haven’t had a meeting yet.

“We just all know what we need to do, and we do it and it works,” Hurst said.

Various businesses donate toys, shelving, space and more to Santa’s Toy Box. K-Mart, Big Lots and Wal-Mart give discounts to the organization and notify them before a sale takes place.

Hurst and her husband, Al, contact the health department, local schools, Hospitality House and OASIS to see which High Country residents need help purchasing gifts for their children. They also send letters to previous participants and field phone calls from parents requesting help. Once the list is compiled, Al and Helen send appointment cards to each Toy Box recipient.

During their appointment, parents can choose gifts from three color-coded categories. “Blue” gifts are worth $20 or more, “red” gifts are worth $10 to $20 and “white” gifts are worth $10 or less. Each parent can choose one blue gift, one red gift and two white gifts, as well as a book and a stuffed animal, for each child.

Santa’s Toy Box recipients must live in Watauga County and provide two forms of residency.

Hurst said people turn to Santa’s Toy Box for a variety of reasons, from a lost job to a medical emergency, but the reason doesn’t matter.

“If they can’t provide Christmas for their kids, we’re there for them,” she said. “The kids need to have Santa Claus.”

How to Get Involved

Send monetary donations to:
Santa’s Toy Box
P.O. Box 1337
Boone, N.C. 28608

Or drop off a new, unopened toy at one of the following locations:

Southern States Subaru (Boone)
Charter Communications (Boone)
Holiday Inn Express (Blowing Rock)
Boone Pediatrics
Ross Chrysler Jeep Dodge (Boone)
Watauga Opportunities (Boone)
Boone Police Department
First Citizens Bank (Boone)
High Country Press (Boone)

The Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign

The Red Kettle campaign is simple: Salvation Army staff and volunteers stand in front of local businesses and ring bells, asking for small donations that can be placed in the telltale red kettles.

This year’s campaign started last Friday at K-Mart and Belk in Boone, and expanded Monday to Wal-Mart, Lowe’s Foods, and Big Lots in Boone, as well as Lowe’s Foods in Banner Elk.

All Red Kettle donations benefit the Salvation Army’s services, which include a food pantry, clothing vouchers, furniture vouchers and financial assistance for families in need.

The campaign raises a major portion of the funds needed each year to provide those services in Watauga and Avery counties, Lieutenant Michael Chapman said, and this year, the need is great.

“People who have never [needed] assistance before are in a position where they’re having to ask,” she said.

How to Get Involved:

Simply drop off a donation at one of the locations listed above, or sign up to ring a bell. Individuals, church groups and civic organizations interested in volunteering can contact Chapman at 828-963-4184.

Community Food Drive

The Hunger & Health Coalition’s annual Community Food Drive is underway. Collection boxes are spread throughout Watauga County to receive contributions of non-perishable food. All the food collected goes to the Hunger & Health Coalition’s Food Pantry program, which provides food to low-income families.

“This time of year families need help,” said Compton Fortuna, agency director, in a press release. “Many are out of work or can’t find enough work to get by. The food from this food drive goes straight to these families that desperately need it.”

How to Get Involved:

Look for boxes around town to drop off non-perishable food items, or make a monetary donation online via PayPal at www.hungerandhealthcoalition.com. For more information, call 828-262-1628.

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