Wishes can come true at Christmastime. And sometimes, it takes a community pulling together to make those Christmas wishes come true.
Throughout the month of December, the employees at the Highland County Prosecutor's Office have endeavored to fulfill some Christmas wishes for a local family through the Highland County Community Action Organization's "Adopt A Family" program. The program seeks to match eligible needy families and children with existing community programs and private donors, as well as ensuring all needy children receive holiday gifts this season. Money was collected, toys were purchased, and presents were wrapped and placed under the office Christmas tree awaiting delivery.
Then, through the course of business at the office, another family in need of "adoption" came across their radar. Highland County Prosecutor Anneka Collins contacted Community Action to see if the family could be added to the "adoption" list.
Collins said that is when Community Action delivered some heartbreaking news.
"She told me that 200 kids in Highland County might not be getting presents," Collins said. "That was unacceptable that there were so many kids in this county that might not have a Christmas."
The families that receive the "adoption" service must have children, with an income under 100 percent of the federal poverty guideline. That means that a family of four has a household income of $22,350 or less. There were 508 children who applied for the services, up from the 469 children who applied last year. The increase in need was coupled with a decrease in donations and "adoptions."
Christi Hauke of Highland County Community Action previously told The Highland County Press that, "Typically, there are 50-100 businesses that respond, and this year, we heard back from maybe 20-25."
Collins said that something one of the women in the prosecutor's office said resonated with her and eventually compelled the entire office to action.
"Tiffany (Faust) said she tells her kids that Jesus loves you so much that you get presents on His birthday," Collins said. "Can you imagine knowing that and then waking up on Christmas and not having anything?"
So the employees at the prosecutor's office started planning what they could do, contacting family members and posting on Facebook.
"By the end of the next day, we'd collected $1,000," Collins said. "People were coming in the next morning with toys and with donations."
Assistant Highland County Prosecutor Molly Bolek said, "I think a lot of people wanted to help, they just didn't know how."
Coordinating with Community Action, they acquired lists of families who were not receiving Christmas services, and then Community Action was able to expand the number of families who could receive gifts.
The outpouring of support has been countywide.
According to Collins, Charlie Stevens of Stevens Best Hardware in Greenfield asked for all of the children on the list who were from Greenfield.
"He said that he'd make sure all the kids in Greenfield got presents," Collins said.
Donations have come from employees at the prosecutor's office and their family members, the clerks in Highland County Juvenile Court, detectives with the Highland County Sheriff's Office, the Greenfield Police Department, Highland County Job and Family Services, attorneys J.D. Wagoner and Lee Koogler, Liberty Savings Bank, Marshall Church of Christ, Hillsboro Church of the Nazarene, the Alternatives to Violence Center, Highland County Recorder Richard Counter, Hills and Dales Training Center, Treasure Island, Gold Rush and many anonymous donations.
"One woman walked in the office with two bags of toys, looked around at all the wrapped presents and said, 'Guess I must be in the right place,' and set her bags down and left," Collins said. "We had no idea who she was."
The families receiving the gifts filled out forms with the ages of the children and what they wanted most for Christmas. While extravagant wishes like video game systems aren't possible, they have done their best to fulfill each wish. In addition to the toys, they have tried to make sure that each child also receives a new outfit.
Work is also underway for the development of a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, which would seek donations and hold fundraisers all year.
Collins said that if the community has pulled together such a tremendous response in a week and a half, a year to work collecting gifts means that more families can be served. They also hope to expand to include back-to-school items such as backpacks or supplies.
Both Bolek and Collins have worked with Children Services, and through their work as prosecutors, they have encountered many families who are struggling with funds.
"There are so many families who don't qualify for services, but that doesn't mean they aren't making ends meet, either," Collins said.
With close to 300 toys, clothes items and games donated or purchased, there are baby dolls, tricycles, trucks and rolls of wrapping paper strung throughout the office. A conference room has been converted to a present-wrapping assembly line.
"It has become Christmas central," Bolek said.
But the joys this holiday aren't just in the presents being passed to the hands of waiting children. Those doing the giving are finding unexpected rewards.
"This has totally reinforced how I feel about Highland County," Collins said, referring to the spirit of community and support for those in need.
Bolek said, "It has been really great to see, and feels really good, knowing kids are going to have a good Christmas because everyone pulled together."
"I am so proud," Collins said. "So proud, and humbled."
For more information, contact the Highland County Prosecutor's Office at (937) 393-1851 or Highland County Community Action at (937) 393-3458.