A local Christmas tradition stretching back to the period following World War I is getting brushed off for a return to its roots.
Scott Barrett, chairman of the Community Nurse Christmas Basket, said the program will once again use volunteers to pack and deliver the boxes of food to help area families put a Christmas meal on the table.
“I don’t think we realized how much it meant. It was one of those community events,” Barrett said about volunteers preparing the boxes of food. “People missed gathering to pack and deliver boxes.”
Barrett explained the Christmas basket tradition was skewed during the COVID-19 pandemic when people did not gather in the effort to slow transmission of the deadly virus, but the Community Nurse Association board did not want to stop supplying food because the need still existed.
Working with the former Save A Lot grocery store, the board provided gift cards to recipients to redeem at the grocery. Save A Lot was chosen because the store did not sell alcohol or tobacco so the money could only be used for things a family needed. That occurred in 2020.
Things were still dicey with COVID in 2021, and the board decided to continue with gift cards but Save A Lot was gone. Pam and Thad Arrasmith were starting their Grab it Here business and agreed to redeem gift cards for the Community Nurse group.
Barrett gave high praise to the Arrasmiths for making that year’s food program successful, plus they added their own donations making it an even better project.
In 2022, the board decided continued caution was the best course and partnered once more with Grab it Here to redeem gift cards. By this time, it was becoming apparent to some of those involved this was not a sustainable practice.
Donations to fund the Christmas meal program were declining.
“People don’t give as much when they are not part of something. That was eye-opening,” Barrett said.
The other issue was a loss of awareness about the Community Nurse Association. Barrett said the organization does more than provide Christmas baskets. It can help when people have medical needs, and community nurse Charlotte Smith also provides other services.
“Just a gift card does not get the message out,” said Barrett.
After reviewing options, the board decided to put aside the gift cards in favor of providing boxes of food.
“It’s a lot more work, but it is work I look forward to,” said Barrett.
He will soon approach student councils at schools for assistance in collecting canned food items. He found it enjoyable having the students involved and making them part of the community service project.
Barrett added Horizon Health has purchased cardboard boxes to pack the food into, and Larson, Woodyard & Henson has committed to providing boxes of macaroni and cheese. Additional corporate sponsorships are welcome, as are individual gifts. Donations may be mailed to the organization’s treasurer Michael Morris, 309 S. Main, Apt. 301, Paris, Ill. 61944.
The goal is to provide boxes with precooked hams, several items of canned goods, cake mix, eggs, bread and more. Purchases will be made through the Arrasmiths’ Grab it Here or other local vendors.
“We want to keep the money with local businesses,” Barrett said. “We will purchase it all locally. We won’t go to Terre Haute seeking a lower price.”
Other parts of the plan are familiar to those who participated in the past. Volunteers will gather Dec. 22 and Dec. 23 in the garage at the Templeton Funeral Home to pack the boxes, and other volunteers will drive to locations in Paris on Dec. 23 to make deliveries.
Barrett stressed this is a county-wide effort, but delivery will occur only in Paris. County residents outside of Paris receiving a box of food must come to the funeral home to take delivery. Information about how to request the food will be announced later, and the signup will not start until after Thanksgiving.
There is one change coming this year. For many years, the drive was capped at 350 boxes, but the Community Nurse Association is taking a more flexible stance.
“We can’t fixate on numbers,” said Barrett.
Food price increases in the last two years may require cutting back on the number of baskets, but if fundraising is successful, more than 350 baskets may get distributed. It all depends on the amount of money available.
Barrett is eager to see the volunteer portion of the project return.
“It’s the right thing to do. We need that sense of community back,” Barrett said. “We need the community to make this happen.”