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Catherine Drewry just wanted to buy a Barbie for a needy child in Oglethorpe County, but when she discovered there wasn't a nonprofit organization collecting clothes and toys for kids in her community, she set about organizing her own.

Twenty-three years later, her nonprofit - Community Christmas of Oglethorpe County - has grown from helping to make Christmas special for a handful of children to giving away gifts for an average of 500 children every year.  

"Really, it's the whole community that comes together," said Drewry, a Crawford resident who designs landscapes and serves as the director of children's ministries at St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church in Athens.

This organization depends on the support of many, many churches, clubs, businesses, and individuals.  Local service groups have various fundraisers throughout the year.  Crawford Baptist Church generously offers space for the operation.

Families who need assistance are referred to Community Christmas by social service agencies.  Community Christmas joins other agencies in using Charity Tracker to ensure that resources are not duplicated.   The parents must come in for an interview, and present proof of need.  The interviewer also compiles the children’s wish lists, including clothing and shoe sizes.

Many people want to buy pretty dolls and toys for children during the holidays, but sometimes the less flashy gifts are the ones that are needed the most.  While toys may make a kid happy for a few minutes, that pair of shoes is going to get them through the rest of the school year.

When funds allow, a few emergency grants are given during the year to families that might need a little extra financial support to help keep them on their feet.  Grants are based on specific family needs and have included needs as diverse as bunk beds for one foster family, car repairs, energy grants to keep the power on for multiple families every year, and money for a family who lost everything in a fire.

Donors can either adopt a child and purchase gifts from their wish list or donate funds which volunteers will use to shop for gifts.  Donors are asked to spend between $100 and $125 per child if adopting a child.  Books, sporting goods, electronics, and hygiene products are always welcomed.  Donations of good used items are also welcomed, and are used in a “free yard sale” for the families held on the day that they pickup their children's gifts.

This is not a government program.  It is a completely local charity for children who are living with poverty in Oglethorpe County.  All donations come from people in this area and are tax deductible.  Everyone who works for Community Christmas is a volunteer. The overhead expenses add up to less than 1% of our total revenue.  

adapted from an article by Erin France, Athens Banner-Herald

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