Brittney Burns – Staff Writer

“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” ― Winston S. Churchill

The holiday season is an especially difficult time of year for many families, but the folks at REACH of Macon and Jackson County are hoping that the community can come together to make this Christmas a little more special for the families having to spend the holiday in their shelter.

Everyone deserves a Christmas, all children and adults should feel a sense of hope and that others really care,” Andrea Anderson, director of REACH said of the importance of making sure the families in the shelter have Christmas this year. “If people could feel the excitement and joy of the children when they saw our Christmas decorations for the shelter, I think it would bring joy to even the most hardened ‘Grinches.’  And for the parent who thought their child wouldn’t have anything – the worry and sadness that they feel, having a community willing to help make sure they do have a Christmas brings so much relief.  I think at all times of the year it is important to show kindness and compassion to each other.  We truly believe in paying it forward. Often times families that we have helped at the holidays or throughout the year, later want to help others in return. ”

REACH currently has 10 families staying at the shelter. Between the 10 families, there are 14 children, which according to Anderson, is the most children they have ever had at the shelter at one time.The youngest child is two years old and the oldest, 17.  “We currently have a large number of teenage children which can sometimes be more difficult for that age of a child to stay in a communal shelter,” said Anderson. “We have two families from Jackson County and eight from Macon County.”

Despite the shelter being full this Christmas, the staff at REACH encourage the families to go about business as usual and keep things as normal as possible for the children staying at the shelter.

“We encourage families to continue as many of their traditions as possible,” said Anderson. “We try to help ensure families have what they need to celebrate their holiday and hold their traditions – Christmas, Hanukkah, or other beliefs. So far this season at the shelter we have had activities including making ornaments and gingerbread houses.  We had an evening for all the residents to help decorate the Christmas tree.  We also had groups within the community donate small Christmas trees and decorations for every room to have the option of having their own Christmas tree. This gives families a chance to have something of their own in addition to the main tree. I cannot say enough how excited the kids at the shelter were to help with all of the decorating and to have a trees in their rooms that ‘were their own.’ We also make sure to have lots of holiday ingredients so the families can bake and make their favorite holiday dishes.”

While REACH staff is keeping the kitchen stocked and the halls decked in hopes of giving the families in the shelter a sense of holiday spirit, they are asking the community to help ensure that each family can wake up on Christmas morning with something special under their tree.

“We still have families that need sponsored for Christmas,” said Anderson. “Sponsoring a family can be anything from one person to a full family. Typically we try to provide food, clothing, and of course toys. We try to meet the needs of each family we serve and try not to duplicate other efforts. We ask that presents be unwrapped – this is so the parent can follow their traditions on wrapping gifts, etc.”

Ruby Peoples of Sylva and her family sponsor a family through REACH each year. “Growing up, my family struggled through a few holidays and had our community step up to make it better for me and my sisters. By adopting a family through REACH, it’s my family’s way of being able to repay the kindness we were shown many years ago. There is no rhyme or reason as to why these families ended up at the shelter, and if I can help to make their time of need a little easier, I want to do that.”

For folks who want to help but may not want to sponsor a family, Anderson said that because there are so many children at the shelter, any donation of crafts, activities, or gift cards for things such as the movies, skating, or holiday events would be very appreciated.

“We can always use general donations of gifts such as toys, blankets, gloves, food, bath items, etc.,” said Anderson. “These are items that can be used for any family or for last minute needs.  We also can always use gift cards – for gas, food, kids activities, and things like that.  We also can utilize monetary donations earmarked for the Christmas Program and then staff typically goes out and buys whatever is still needed.”

Ongoing needs, such as diapers, laundry and day-to-day items, used at the shelter throughout the year are always welcomed donations as well.

The clients at the REACH shelter make up 15 percent of the overall clients served by REACH. The organization assists many people in the community through court advocacy, life skills, crisis intervention, prevention programming, rape crisis, and other services.  REACH also helps to support current community clients with any needs they have during the holiday season.