Project makes Christmas a reality

BOURBON — So you thought you couldn’t afford Christmas? Didn’t know how you were going to provide presents for your children? (Drum roll……) It’s the Triton Christmas Project to the rescue. For the second year, this extension of the Marshall County Neighborhood Center’s Christmas Coalition came to fruition.
Plymouth’s effort has been successful for years. The pattern there is for willing volunteers to take an entire family in need, providing food and gifts for all children in the household. MCNC also uses general community donations of food, toys, and cash to assemble holiday gift packages and groceries to nearly 150 families, who are otherwise not sponsored through the direct, adopt a family process. This approach has worked well in a town the size of Plymouth. The Neighborhood Center Board realized, however, that outlying county residents were not being served as well, because they either would not or could not drive to Plymouth for services.
Enter Rev. Stormy Scherer-Berry of Bourbon, a member of the board. Having had a successful experience in a different town where she pastored, she offered to start an offshoot of the Christmas Coalition in her area. Thus was born, last year, the Triton Christmas Project, serving the towns of Bourbon, Etna Green, and Tippecanoe, plus all residents of the Triton School Corporation district.
Key to the new venture was the matter of confidentiality. In smaller towns, kids rub elbows with each other at school. A family adopting an entire family in need could pose a problem, because the donor kids would know who the recipients were. The possibility of embarrassment to the recipients is greater in smaller communities.
Using her previous experience, Scherer-Berry initiated a procedure in which all families, and all children within each family, are identified only by a code. Volunteer donors, then, sign up for a gift of their choice identified only by the code and a request. For example, code 24-C is a 10-year-old boy who has requested a Sorry board game. The gift is purchased, wrapped, and returned to TCP central with the code attached. Only the coordinators have access to the coded list of recipients, and they personally see that each gift gets placed with the food items for that particular family. In addition, to avoid the feeling of impersonality, the coordinators replace each code with the child’s name.
Other safeguards are also in place. No donor receives a gift request for more than one child in a family. Church members are not allowed to donate to a family within their parish. Youth volunteers are not allowed to deal with gifts, and only load food items into coded boxes. Recipients are allowed to choose whether to have their food and presents delivered or pick them up themselves, allowing them to decide whether to inform their children where the items come from.
“This year has gone smoother than last year,” said Paula Meredith. She and Julie Clemens served as co-coordinators under Scherer-Berry this year. They are both capable of running the project in future years. Meredith is from the United Pentecostal Church in Bourbon, and Clemens and Scherer-Berry are from the First United Methodist Church there. Although the Methodist church provides space for the TCP, it is a community-wide endeavor. Other churches participating include the Country Church in Bourbon and the Etna Green United Methodist Church. Businesses such as the First State Bank and Robin’s Nest support the effort monetarily. Clubs and organizations which also donate include the Etna Green Lions Club, the Bourbon Kiwanis club, the Bourbon Cub Scouts, and the Bourbon Girl Scouts. In addition, a wide variety of individuals and families, both within these organizations and without, sign up to provide the coded presents.
Hands-on labor is provided by 30 to 50 individuals. On Dec. 19, workers assembled to load the food baskets; Dec. 22, several teams fanned out to deliver food and presents to recipients. Although the deadline for applying for assistance for this year is passed, residents are urged to consider contacting TCP next year.
New this year is a ramped-up effort to provide lunch foods for families during Christmas break from school. Items such as cereal, pasta and meatballs, and Ramen noodles were heavily requested and stocked. Most of the food items were purchased from the Neighborhood Center with donated money. Most individuals are not aware that the Neighborhood Center, through the Northern Indiana Food Bank, can provide food items at half or one fourth the cost of the same item bought individually at the grocery store, thus greatly multiplying the amount of food which can be purchased.
The matter of confidentiality is observed in the sign-up process. Triton School Corporation, while not allowed by law to give names of families on free or reduced lunch who might be interested in the TCP, can and does send a letter to such families announcing the TCP application process. Families then voluntarily complete the application and return it. Only those families who choose to apply are known to the TCP.
What about plans for next year? The Triton Christmas Project will certainly take place again, and will serve those struggling families who choose to apply. So far, no family which has applied has been turned away. As for Scherer-Berry, she said: “I don’t need to be the person in charge next year. We have competent, trained leaders who are capable of leading the Triton effort.” The Neighborhood Center Board would like to expand the Christmas project concept to all of Marshall County. The feeling is that other communities are similar to Bourbon, Etna Green, and Tippecanoe in that confidentiality will be paramount. The Triton approach seems most feasible for other smaller towns as well.
Scherer-Berry has offered to advise and train other towns in the Triton method. The board has on its drawing board plans to start at least one new Christmas project in a different location. When it comes to the Christmas celebration, the Community Christmas Coalition realizes that everyone deserves to have a joyful holiday. Through its coordinating efforts, all Marshall County communities will eventually be able to help those in need at Christmas.