Fulton County Christmas Cheer, a county tradition for over 30 years, wrapped up last week, having served 427 families in need.
Cecily Rohrs, a community activist who lives in rural Archbold, has headed the event for 33 years, but it was in operation prior to that.
Once Cheer gets underway, she’s not needed, she said.
“I tell people I am the background. I make it happen, make the calls to be sure we have food, be sure we have the building– that’s what I do.
“But once the show rolls out, I’m really a decoration because these folks (volunteers)– we’ve got people who have done this for decades, really, and they know what to do and how they want it run, and I just step back and let it go.”
Fulton County Christmas Cheer is a program that gathers donations throughout the year.
Families in need are invited to “shop” at a makeshift store set up in the Junior Fair building at the Fulton County Fairgrounds.
Each client or shopper is awarded a certain number of points, which the person can spend to purchase items.
The person receives a box containing certain items such as garbage bags, laundry detergent, shampoo, and three bars of soap.
Each client is paired with a personal shopper, who helps the client select items.
This year, the store was open Wednesday and Thursday, Dec 6-7.
Rohrs said the volunteers treat the clients with dignity.
“In my opening speech on both days to all the volunteers, I said, ‘On this day, we will treat them (clients) like royalty. Anyone having a bad day, you should go sit in a closet, because this is all about someone else,’” she said.
A total of 494 families registered to participate, and Christmas Cheer purchased enough to provide for all of those families.
This year, 427 families went to the Christmas Cheer store. Leftover items (“and there wasn’t much,” said Rohrs) then went to the FISH food pantries in participating communities.
Of the 427 families that were served (up one from 2016), there were 741 children.
“We spend about $25,000 on toys,” she said. “The toy elves (volunteers) shop all year long for deals and things. They just know what kids are going to have on their list.
“Twenty-five thousand dollars seems like a lot of toys. You divide that over the 741 kids, and I think it’s just a few dollars over $30 a kid.
“For many people that’s not even a stocking stuffer.”
Each toy is assigned a point value, and each client is given four points per child.
“So for a teenager, you might just want one fourpoint item, something nice. But for a very young child, you might rather have two two-point items,” she said.
That’s not the only aspect of youths involved in Christmas Cheer. Each year, students, in cooperation with their schools, work to set up the Christmas Cheer store, then tear it down when it’s over.
Many of the 80 to 90 volunteers are in their 70s or 80s, Rohrs said, “and we have to lug so many things that we have to have the school kids. We just have to have them.
“I mean, students are moving big boards. I’m talking about planks, and these kids, boys and girls, off they go! The teenagers don’t roll their eyes.
“I mean, teenagers just by nature, roll their eyes and shrug their shoulders (and say), ‘Whatever.’
“I mean, none of that. They just hauled planks.
“We use a lot of duct tape to map out the floor plan… but when it came up, it didn’t quite all come up. It left a little residue.
“I had some plastic knives and I said to some students, ‘Will you guys just sit on the floor and get that residue up?’
“They did it. They did it without even fussing. I think that’s refreshing!”
Participating schools for 2017 included Archbold, Pettisville, and the Four County Career Center.
Rohrs said a group of special needs students help with the setup every year.
“On Tuesday mornings– and this has happened forever– students… who are part of a special-needs program come” to the Junior Fair building.
To make up the boxes of items that everyone gets, “these students come and we make a parade. Someone stands and puts shampoo in the box when it comes by. That’s all they do.
“Then someone puts the detergent in, some of the others pull the little red wagons that we have the boxes in, so it’s a parade, and it’s just a great thing.”
In fact, one of the greatest things about Christmas Cheer is the interaction.
“People who have celebrated their 80th birthday are there with teenagers from the high school, mingling with all kinds of people from the county who have come to get assistance.
“There is just a spirit like– I don’t know another place where that happens. No one is a spectator. Everyone is involved.
“I am very proud of the effort the Fulton County people put” into Christmas Cheer.–David Pugh