Triton Christmas Project a grand success

BOURBON — Giving is a special privilege of Christmas. This Christmas, the newly-formed Triton Christmas Project made giving very special for 48 area families. Deliveries of food baskets and gifts Dec. 17 made for an enjoyable Christmas.
The Marshall County Neighborhood Center has been formulating plans to expand its services in the county. While it has aggressively participated in the Christmas Coalition’s Christmas Project, the impact has been mainly in Plymouth. Residents of outlying communities who are experiencing hardship are reluctant or unable to drive to Plymouth for services.
Enter the Triton Christmas Project and its founder, the Rev. Stormy Scherer-Berry, pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Bourbon. “I was heavily involved in a similar event where I previously pastored,” she said. “It just seemed logical to get families of the Triton School Corporation, including the towns of Etna Green, Tippecanoe, and Bourbon, started on a similar project here. The need is apparent.”
It did not hurt that she is also a member of the board of directors for the Neighborhood Center. Presenting her idea to Executive Director Sara Hill was effortless. “It’s a great project,” said Hill. “The Neighborhood Center has actually been discussing expanding services in the county. This could not have come at a better time.”
Forming a steering committee was equally smooth. Co-chaired by Scherer-Berry and Bourbon resident Misty Musilli, the committee consisted of township trustee Roger Schori, Paula Meredith from the United Pentecostal Church in Bourbon, Amber Roach, and Hill.
One immediate dilemma presented itself. In the larger community of Plymouth, the Christmas Coalition has for years maintained a successful Christmas project in which sponsors adopt an entire family, spending up to $150 for food and gifts. While that works well in Plymouth, smaller communities require more anonymity since children of recipients are more likely to encounter the children of sponsors at school, presenting the potential for embarrassment.
To address this concern, the committee established a protocol in which families and children are identified by a code number known only to a few organizers. Sponsors would know, for example, that they need to buy a Miley Cyrus CD for a girl age 10, but would not know the name of the child or the family. Organizers then ensure that the gift is placed in the proper family’s basket, and that the code number is replaced with the child’s name.
Another issue is that many sponsors may not be able to afford to sponsor all members of an entire family. The Triton project was organized in such a way that a sponsor could sign up to buy one $20 gift or several, as they choose. To further enhance confidentiality, no sponsor was given multiple children in the same family or two gifts for the same child.
With the methodology thus established, the committee approached the Triton schools for help in identifying possible participants. Since by law the schools cannot release the names of eligible families, both the elementary and the jr./sr. high schools distributed applications to those families most likely to participate. The application process was completely voluntary, resulting in 48 families responding. “It is amazing to have this much participation in the start-up of a previously unknown project,” said Scherer-Berry.
TCP was able to serve all families who applied. Each family was given a basket of food consisting of the Christmas dinner (to be prepared by the recipients), a ham or turkey provided by the Neighborhood Center, and lunch food for the days children were on Christmas break. In addition, each child from birth through age 17 was given two wrapped gifts: a “want” specified by the child, and a “need,” such as a clothing article. Finally, all family members including adults were given socks.
Although this was not specifically a church ministry, several area churches participated by taking blocks of anonymous gifts for members to buy. The Bourbon First United Methodist Church, the Country Church, The United Pentecostal Church, and the Etna Green United Methodist Church all heavily supported this community effort. Individuals not connected with these churches also signed up for gifts. A local store — the Family Dollar — maintained a box in which customers could donate hats and gloves.
Money is also necessary for a project of this scope. Needs include filling out the food baskets, completing the list of wrapped children’s gifts, and purchasing items such as the socks which are not covered by individual sponsors. Generous donations were received from the following Bourbon entities: First State Bank of Bourbon, the Lions Club, the Kiwanis Club, and the Cub Scouts, as well as the Etna Green Lions Club.
In addition, the Triton Jr./Sr. High Key Club conducted a food drive for the project, and food and money were collected during a raffle at both a girls and a boys Triton basketball game. By design, all money given was spent on 2011 TCP recipients. No money was reserved for next year’s project, and no money went into the general operating budget of the Neighborhood Center.
In its inaugural year, the Triton Christmas Project served a total of 222 individuals. Of these, 130 children were presented with a total of 260 wrapped Christmas presents. “This heralds exciting new ventures as the Neighborhood Center expands its services in Marshall County,” explained Hill. “We want to use this same format in other outlying smaller communities, such as Argos, Culver, Bremen, and LaPaz. Rev. Scherer-Berry has agreed to train volunteer coordinators in other towns as interest is raised,” she said.
Future expansion depends upon finding volunteer leadership in each location as well as willing sponsors and funders. Hill said: “Besides continuing the very successful TCP, it is our desire to expand to Argos next year, and to any other communities in which interest seems high and success seems possible. The Neighborhood Center would like for any family in Marshall County which is experiencing difficult times to be able to have a good Christmas. Our eventual goal is to blanket the county with other services as well.”
For now, the Triton Christmas Project is a step in that direction. Terry Clemens, Bourbon funeral director, said, “The TCP is the best thing that has happened in Bourbon for a long time. I didn’t know I could have so much fun sorting fruit!” Giving is truly an integral part of Christmas, and the organizers, sponsors, volunteers, and recipients of the 2011 TCP would be the first to echo that sentiment.