Sponsorship and family count are up for Christmas Clearinghouse

Cathy Decker/Staff reporter
Mercer County Quilters Guild members made around 40 quilts, then paired up them up with dolls or stuffed animals. These gifts are being donated to the Aledo Jaycees for the Toys for Needy Kids program this holiday season. Nancy Retherford (left) and Audrey Bryant, outreach committee, made sure the dolls went to area needy children.

With stockings hung by the chimney with care, this year's Mercer County needy are being blessed with area organizations working to make the holidays a bit merrier. Mercer County Christmas Clearinghouse and Operation Santa in the Sherrard School District are both doing good deeds this holiday season.

Boxes collecting toys for Mercer County Needy Kids have been seen locally at Wal-mart, Dollar General and area banks, with hopes of filling the wish lists of 350 area children, according to Dan Weeks, vice president of the Aledo Jaycees. "Preliminary, we've got 350 needy kids signed up, all in Mercer County," said Weeks.

The Christmas Clearinghouse committee is made up of area people under the umbrella of the Mercer County General and Veteran's Assistance office. The Illinois Department of Human Services sends out letters to clients receiving benefits such as Medicaid, or Food Stamps, to see if those clients are interested in receiving Christmas Clearinghouse packages. Those families that are interested are sent on to Mercer County's General Assistance Office. The committee begins its work just a few months after the previous year's holidays have ended.

The Aledo Jaycees are in charge of collecting the toys for Mercer County's Christmas Clearinghouse. On Saturday, Dec. 12, Jaycees and College Avenue Presbyterian Church's youth hold a wrapping party in the church basement. "We cover children from newborn to 18 years old," said Weeks.

That day individuals and groups who signed up as Christmas Clearinghouse sponsors can stop by to pick up the gifts for any of their families with children between 1 - 4 p.m.

Sponsors also receive information about the SHARE food boxes, with the program offering a special Christmas box for $25 which contains a ham, sweet potatoes, stuffing mix, gravy mix, hot roll mix and a pumpkin pie. There are also six kinds to fruits and vegetables in the Christmas box. Besides that, SHARE food boxes are sold for $17 per unit, with individuals able to purchase as many units as needed. SHARE pickup in Aledo is on Saturday, Dec. 19 at St. Catherine's Parish Hall from 10 a.m. to noon.

Darla Phelps, Mercer County General Assistance coordinator, said the count is up from last year by around 20 families. "Between 230 -240 Mercer County families are helped by the Clearinghouse. We start in March to get an idea of how many sponsors there are. This year we were short sponsors by 13 families," she said.

This year there were just over 50 individuals or groups sponsoring the families. She said that some groups or individuals sponsor one family, others more. "Some of the bigger churches might take 15 - 20 families."

Committee members asked some of the existing sponsors to pick up some of the extras. "Some of the churches called other churches for help," she said.

Operation Santa

"We have more families we are serving this year -- 62, which is up from 50 last year," said Donna Lamb, social worker for Sherrard CUSD # 200. The goal for each family is to provide them with a grocery coupon and some fruit, a gift coupon for each child and, if enough money is raised, an additional gift coupon for a family outing somewhere in the QC area.

All Sherrard Schools are encouraged to hold fund-raisers for Operation Santa.

Matherville's typical fund-raiser is the annual donut-eating contest held in December. Starting Dec. 1, students may purchase raffle tickets for 50 cents apiece. They may write a student name on the ticket for a chance to be chosen as a doughnut eater for their homeroom on Dec. 17. Each homeroom draws a name to be the designated 'eater,' along with a coach. The contest is to see who eats the most donuts in five minutes. There are also a number of special staff characters joining students in the contest. This is usually a very hilarious assembly.

"We have a couple of staff fund-raisers," said Polly Hessman, Winola coordinator. On Fridays staff can pay $1 for jeans casual day. "Once a month we have a potluck luncheon, and each staff member pays $5 for that," she added. This year Winola raised from $1,200 to $1,400.

"Mrs. Lamb does meet with the Chrtistmas Clearning house about families to coordinate, so there is no duplication. Unless there is an extreme need," said Hessman.

Besides school participation, local organizations get involved for Christmas. "A Cub Scout pack from Sherrard has also donated paper and hygiene products that are not covered by food stamps; such as paper towels, paper plates, deodorants, shampoos," said Lamb.

Sherrard Grade School held pie sales this year. "They earned over $3,700 for Operation Santa," said Lamb.

At Sherrard Junior-Senior High School students contributed to fund-raisers during the week of Nov. 30 - Dec. 4 by paying $1 for Dress-up days. Day themes were Monday: pajama day; Tuesday: hat and sunglasses day; Wednesday: sports team day; Thursday: twin day and Friday: black-out day.

Any monetary donations from individuals or businesses can be sent to Donna Lamb, % Operation Santa, 4701 176th Ave., Sherrard, IL 61281.