Volunteers working to make a merry Christmas for local families

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By Linda Ireland

The pressure is on at Santa’s Workshop.
Ann “Snookie” Morrison and her handful of dedicated volunteers have been working in the Phelps-Morrison building at the LaRue County Fairgrounds for a couple of weeks, organizing the 47th annual Santa Run.
The Run, started by Snookie’s husband, Bobby, delivers new and gently-used toys and clothing to children around LaRue County via the “Santa Bus” – an aging, refurbished school bus. Fire departments in each community open their doors each year to the children and volunteers.
Community members donate items for the project at the Morrison’s home on Salem Lake Road throughout the year. Some toys still have the original price tags on them; others have been loved beyond recognition.
Snookie stores the items in the bus until the holidays roll around. As the names of children in need start pouring in, she prays there will be enough toys and coats to go around. During the recession, the needs often outstrip the donations.
Last year, 300 children lined up on Christmas Eve to receive stuffed animals, dolls, board games and bikes. Several went home with new coats, boots and gloves. Two hundred fruit baskets and 10 food boxes also were delivered to families.
Many other families asked for assistance before Christmas.
This year, applications are being taken also at Community Action in Hodgenville.
“We’re assigning them to one fire station to pick up (items),” said Ellen Leake, community services director for Central Kentucky Community Action.
Volunteers refurbishing toys
For the next few weeks, the volunteers will inspect, clean and redeem as many toys as possible.
Thursday, Dixie Wix sat at a table, stacking hundreds of puzzle pieces. As long as the pieces are all there, the toy can be passed along to a child. If one piece is missing, the puzzle is recycled for crafts.
Jimmie Engle and Nathan Atwell began sorting donated bicycles.
Phyllis Smith, Marie Riggs, and others, checked over a large assortment of dolls, washing faces, combing hair, tugging at seams and trying to salvage clothing. There are generic baby dolls with bald heads and closing eyes; ones that cry; dolls of color; Indian maidens, Barbies and Disney princesses.
A couple of dolls – Lady Lovely Locks, Cabbage Patch Kids and Rainbow Brite – were popular in the 1980s. They looked almost brand new, something that collectors would covet on eBay. Their new owners will likely enjoy playing with them as much as their mothers did.
Inmates from the LaRue County Detention Center also are volunteering. One man checked the toys that need batteries. One-by-one, cars, electronic drums and talking bears came back to life. A disappointing number that didn’t respond to AAA power had to be placed in another box. Snookie hopes someone will be able to repair them.
Smith, who transforms into Mrs. Claus each Christmas Eve, proudly showed a pair of white suede boots – ones with fur cuffs and tassels – that will catch the eye of a lucky toddler. The donated boots were heavily stained with red clay.
Applying equal amounts of Gojo Handcleaner and willpower, Smith had the boots looking as good as new.
Lone program
Snookie is growing concerned as the holidays inch closer. She hasn’t been able to work as many hours as she would like as she is caring for an ailing Bobby at home. And, she has learned other agencies will not be participating in Christmas programs this year.
LaRue County Community Action was hit with budget cuts and reduced personnel; and the Ministerial Association, which has worked with the community resource centers in the past, will not be hosting the “Christmas Blessings” program.
Jenn Mayfield, who chairs the Ministerial Association, said the organization was spending “tens of thousands of dollars to coordinate Christmas Blessings.” Last year, there were numerous complaints from parents about a Christmas party that was held.
The churches wanted to deliver a religious message along with gifts – and many of the parents did not appreciate it, she said.
The families being helped were asked to bring their children to a party at a local church, said Mayfield. Santa visited and delivered a religious message about the meaning of the season.
Afterwards, wrapped presents for the children were provided to the parents.
“We had a lot of negative comments,” said Mayfield.
Individual churches will handle their own programs this year, she added.
Leake hopes that next year, the separate organizations will pool their resources for a community-wide Christmas program.
“It will take a lot of volunteers,” she said. “We want the whole community to be involved in it.”
This year, however, the benefit is being coordinated solely by Santa’s Helpers.
Although Community Action will not be handing out gifts, the organization  donated boxes of coloring books, stuffed animals and board games to the Santa Run, said Snookie.
Theresa Rucker held a fundraiser and is using the proceeds to buy items for older kids – fingernail polish, gloves, scarves and makeup.
More donations are needed. Several businesses have agreed to be “drop-off” points. Boxes are available at Lincoln National Bank, Magnolia Bank, Bank of Buffalo, Dollar General Store, LaRue County Chamber of Commerce, Bo’s Smoke Shop, Vanity Hair and The LaRue County Herald News.
Smith said “not much” is coming in for older children. She suggested donations of footballs and basketballs for the older boys; jewelry making kits, diaries, journals and clothing for older girls.
“We need anything – for toddlers to teenagers,” said Smith.
Donations of food and fruit are “iffy” at this point, according to Snookie. She’s not sure how many boxes she will be able to provide.
Anyone who would like to clean and repair toys is welcome to drop by the fairgrounds while the group is working, said Snookie. Larger items like bicycles can be taken home to be repaired.
“We’re all pulling together,” she said. “We’re working together to make Christmas for the kids.”
“It takes everybody to get this done.”
For more information, to volunteer or make a donation, call Morrison at 270-234-3313.
To help
Volunteers are need to clean toys, repair bikes and organize.
Donations of new and gently used toys are needed.
Batteries of all sizes, but especially AA, AAA and C, are needed.
Donations can be dropped off at these sites: Lincoln National Bank, Magnolia Bank, Bank of Buffalo, Dollar General Store, LaRue County Chamber of Commerce, Bo’s Smoke Shop, Vanity Hair and The LaRue County Herald News.
If you need assistance or want to help, call Snookie Morrison at 270-234-3313.