MILLERSBURG — What started nearly 30 years ago as four guys wanting to do something nice for eight families in need around the holidays has grown into a program that has brought Christmas joy to thousands of needy families over the years.
Holmes County’s Share-A-Christmas served 226 families this past year, providing toys for children, food for families and other necessities that many people take for granted.
"One year, I think it was 28 years ago, Bill Baker called me and said, ‘Let’s help some families through Job and Family Services at Christmas,’" Mike Taylor said. "So, we talked to Sam Steimel and John Thern. Our wives also got involved. We each took on two families.
"The following year, Bill said, ‘Let’s see if we can do a hundred families,’ " Taylor continued. "He always dreams big. It’s one thing to have an idea. But when Bill said let’s do 100 families, I thought, this will be interesting. Our wives Jan and Cindy got together with some of the other women in the community, and Bill and I raised the money, and it just kind of took off."
A year or so after that, Mark Lonsinger at WKLM-FM (93.5) got involved and took the project on as a radio fundraiser. WKLM still runs its fundraiser every year. With Baker and Taylor raising money through their business connections, and WKLM doing fundraising on the radio, the group took on 300 families.
"Everybody just continues to be supportive and the radio station continues to raise additional money to keep us where we need to be," Taylor said. "We’ve served as many as 340 families, and this year was one of our lower years at around 225 families. It works based on the economy. When things weren’t real good, we were up in the 300s for a year or two, and as things get better, the numbers come down. It works the way it was designed."
Taylor said the organization has no expenses, as everyone involved volunteers.
Bob Porter is one of those volunteers. He serves as the chairman of Share-A-Christmas.
"What we have is a really well-oiled machine," Porter said. "I serve as the mouth. We have about 20 or so committee members who have continued to do this every year. They do it for the kids. Each of these people take on a role."
Linda Frenette takes care of the computer end, sending out applications. Applications also are available through Job and Family Services and at the Holmes County District Public Library. Georgie Cool handles the applications and senior citizens. Lauren Vaccariello is in charge of hats and gloves for all the families. Mindi Campbell organizes the perishables (hams, chickens, eggs and cheese) and lunches for students through Holmes Fire District No. 1. There are several others who do things as well, like Tiffany Stefano at First Knox Bank, who handles all the vouchers; and Kristin and Joel Yoder who have the Toy Store. They provide toys for kids 10 and younger. Kids older than 10 get a voucher for $35 for Walmart.
One way Share-A-Christmas knows what toys to get is through the gift tree at Jitters Coffee House.
People take a tag from the tree that says: Family 121. Turn it over and on the back it says 5-year-old boy; action figure. So people buy that item, and turn it in. Similarly, Pomerene Hospital helped 100 kids, including handing out eight bikes. Berlin Merchants and the Berlin Grande Hotel did more than 60 tags. Nikki Roach and Steph Baker take care of the tags and purchasing those toys.
Nobody involved with Share-A-Christmas is surprised by the generosity shown by the people of Holmes County.
"I’ve always known through my work how generous the community was," Taylor said. "I think when we went to 100 families, the generosity from people with a brand new start-up program was really, really great. It’s just gone from there. The same businesses contribute year after year. They have it budgeted. Plus, every year, money comes from places we don’t even think about.
"Somebody will send us $1,000 from out of the blue," he continued. "This year, somebody sent us $5,000. The churches have been great. The schools, both parochial and public have been so supportive."
Jan Hershberger holds a concert every year at Martin’s Creek Church that generates around $4,000 every year.
Porter said he doesn’t know of any other county that has an organization like Share-A-Christmas.
"This project has stayed constant every single year," Porter said. "Every year we will raise close to a $100,000. Individuals, businesses, it’s amazing. Not only do we take care of the 220-some families, but we also take care of 100 senior citizens."
He pointed out that they provide gifts for all of the kids that are under juvenile court custody and Job and Family Services.
"There's a lot of good people left in this world," said one father who was on the receiving end of a Share-A-Christmas delivery. "This means so much to us. We would really be hurting this year if it weren't for this. I think it is such a wonderful thing that so many people are so willing to help out others in the community. It’s pretty special when people are so willing to take care of their own within the county."
Name: Holmes County Share-A-Christmas, P.O. Box 228, Millersburg, OH 44654
About: The mission is to provide basic essential items for families, especially for children during the holiday season.
How to help: Donate. No amount is too little.