Numbers can be a tricky thing.
Just ask Peggy Christian, the face of McClain County Operation Christmas.
On Friday the holiday charity sent 171 food baskets out the door at the Multi-Purpose Center.
Now that was down more than 50 families when compared to 2019.
But organizers noticed more people than ever will partake of the holiday feast contained in those food baskets.
That’s because in a year when nothing is the same as it’s always been, households are changing too.
And that change is most evident in the rise of multi-generational households.
The largest family to receive a food basket this year counted 11 members.
It was one of several blended families.
Christian said Operation Christmas was able to brighten the holiday season with food and gifts for more than 800 people this year.
As recently as October, Christian wasn’t sure how Operation Christmas would work in the midst of a global pandemic.
It turns out, it worked just fine – albeit with a few adjustments.
For one thing, monetary donations were up considerably.
“It was not unusual for us to be out (in the community) and people would give us money,” Christian said.
The influx of funds means McClain County Operation Christmas has a cash cushion going into 2021.
The number of applications was down in 2020.
That decline may have been due in part to the closure of the Department of Human Services office in Purcell.
But Christian said it was also due in large part to the on-again, off-again schedules for schools across the county and the fact that many parents opted to enroll their children in Epic Charter School this year.
Gail Wilson stepped up this year to handle the food side of the charity.
She said organizers called all of the recipients from 2019, asking if they wanted to apply this year.
Happily, many reported their circumstances actually improved in 2020.
Purcell police cancelled their Shop with a Cop event this year. And several other organizations cancelled their toy drives in 2020.
Newcastle schools and the town’s First Baptist Church brought a trailer loaded with gifts.
Wayne students abandoned the district’s food drive in favor of a money drive, raising more than $300. The students used that money to purchase groceries to fill food baskets.
Among volunteers at the Multi-Purpose Center were all three county commissioners, officers from the sheriff’s department and criminal justice students from Mid-America Technology Center.
Operation Christmas provided 23 food baskets in support of a program run by Dibble Schools in which teachers identify kids in need.
“The teachers buy for those kids,” Christian said.
Another first was helping residents of Hope Center shop for their children and wrap those gifts.
The Hope Center is a 12-month drug and alcohol recovery program for women.
That effort benefitted 23 youngsters.
“The moms were very appreciative they had stuff for their kids,” Christian said.
Restaurants across the county made sure Operation Christmas “elves” were well-fed all week.
And McClain County Emergency Management Director Ron Johnson sent staff to disinfect the Multi-Purpose Building every morning.
Other health protocols were observed during the week.
Masks were required and volunteers had temperature checks every day before entering the Multi-Purpose Center.
Daily sign-in sheets were utilized to assist in contact-tracing should any volunteer come down with COVID-19.
The strict appointment-only schedule for recipients also helped.
There have been memorable years in Operation Christmas history.
There was the year all the toys in storage were sprayed by a skunk. And the year all the food drive donations were locked up tight in the schools, which were closed because of the snow and ice of an unprecedented winter storm.
“This year I will remember the number of applications and the generosity of people,” Christian said.
And the fact 2020 is the first year everyone picked up their food baskets and “everything left the building.”
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