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Following in the footsteps of the Magi, the Galax Y’s Men’s Club brings the gifts of the holiday season to those who are less fortunate.
While most people at Christmas are concerned that their loved ones get what they want from their Christmas list, some people right here in the Twin Counties are struggling just to put food on the table.
That’s where the Community Christmas Chest and the Galax Y’s Men come in, said Gene Cox of Galax, chairman of the program for the past 29 years.
The Y’s Men is a group of Christian businessmen and women who undertake civic projects.
The program serves 550 of the neediest families in Galax, Grayson County and part of Carroll County at Christmas, providing nearly $60 worth of food to each family right before the holidays.
The baskets contain a three-pound ham; Christmas treats like nuts and oranges; and staples like cornmeal, flour and dried beans.
Cox said the Christmas Chest is unique among local charitable efforts because it depends primarily on the contributions of individuals.
“This is a community effort for the community” he said.
Last year, 52 percent of the contributions to the Christmas chest fund came from individual donors, which Cox said reflects well on the Twin Counties and the local sense of compassion for neighbors.
Last year the Y’s Men delivered 300 baskets in Galax, 125 in Grayson and 125 in Carroll.
Cox said the Y’s Men get calls and letters from recipients “telling us how much they appreciate it and how much of a need there is.”
The Y’s Men’s Club took over the program from the Galax Jaycees 30 years ago.
In 1982, members packed 65 baskets. “Now we’re up to 550 and still not meeting the entire need,” Cox said. “We’re limited by funds.”
The need is tremendous, Cox said, and it’s not easy to raise $30,000 in the short span of time before Christmas.
Churches make up 29 percent of the donations. Cox said churches and pastors provide some of the program’s best support.
He praises the efforts of local radio stations WBRF-98.1 FM and WBOB-1360 AM, which hold a live broadcast each year from Magic Mart to raise funds for the project. This year’s broadcast will be held Dec. 9 from 2-4 p.m.
Some large items have been donated to be auctioned during the radiothon, but the Y’s Men rely on community donations for the majority of the funding.
“The person that gives $10, $20, $30 or more — we want him to feel a part of it — and he wants to be a part of it,” Cox said. “I want people to understand that it’s an effort from all people that make this thing successful.”
In addition to the donors, another partner that makes the Community Christmas Chest successful each year is the local departments of social services.
The departments determine who will receive the baskets, screening some 700 applications from local families. “They determine who’s most needy and give [the names] to us,” Cox said.
Social workers try to focus on families that have experienced some catastrophic problem like illness or job loss in the past year, according to Susan Clark, director of the Galax Department of Social Services.
Screening the applications “is a very difficult task,” Clark said, because so many people are needy. Those who receive the baskets may not necessarily be the same people who qualify for social service programs.
“We try to look at everything — the whole ball of wax,” she said.
Typically, recipients are low- or fixed-income families who have had some financial catastrophe or unforeseen medical expense. “We attempt to be as fair as we possibly can be in looking at those extenuating circumstances,” Clark said.
After money is raised and food is purchased, volunteers gather to pack boxes for delivery.
This year, boxes will be assembled Dec. 21 at the U.S. Army Reserve Armory on Armory Road in Galax, starting at 7 p.m.
On the morning of Dec. 23, pickup trucks and vans will line up outside the armory to load and deliver boxes. Each volunteer driver gets about 10 applications, grouped geographically.
“We can get those 550 baskets out the door by 9 on Sunday morning.” Cox said.
Anyone who would like to help deliver the baskets can show up at the armory at around 7 a.m. on Dec. 23.
Clark applauds the club’s efforts. “They’ve been absolutely marvelous in providing the service. It’s the only Christmas that some folks have.”
• Donations may be mailed to The Community Christmas Chest, P.O. Box 738, Galax, VA 24333.