A Spirit of Giving: Residents give to less fortunate during holiday season

Published 6:06 pm Monday, December 18, 2017

Many view the holidays as a time to share food, gifts and joy with friends and family. But for some, the Christmas season is a difficult time where families just try to get by.

Fortunately, there are several organizations in Clark County gearing up to help make this Christmas a merry one for those in need.

Operation Happiness

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Since the 1970s, people in  Winchester-Clark County have banded together to provide coats and food to the neediest members of the community.

Originally started by the Clark County Association of Churches, Operation Happiness has grown into a large annual event organized by Clark County Community Services and hosted by Emmanuel Episcopal Church on Lexington Road.

CCCS Director Debbie Fatkin said on the program’s Day of Giving Wednesday a small army of volunteers will distribute donated items to more than 1,100 families in need.

“It truly is a community-wide effort,” Fatkin said. “I couldn’t do it without the help from all of our volunteers.”

In addition to the host of volunteers on the Day of Giving, Fatkin said CCCS is assisted during Operation Happiness by organizations like Clark County Public Schools, which donates a parking area for the day; the Clark County Detention Center, which helps unload the supplies; and Penske, which has donated a refrigerated truck for the duration of the event so food can be safely transported.

As people enter the church the morning of the event, they will each get to pick out a new coat before going through a line to get a box packed with food items to take home. In addition, Santa will make an appearance to spread holiday cheer to the boys and girls attending.

The massive operation is organized and all the items are collected by CCCS in November and December, Fatkin said.

Everything used in the operation is donated, from the boxes the food is stored in to the hours volunteers spend organizing them and giving them out to families.

Following the Day of Giving, Fatkin and her volunteers will give “bulk” items to organizations like the Beacon of Hope Emergency Shelter. Any boxes left over from the Day of Giving will be stored at the CCCS building, 30 Taylor Ave., to be given out to families on a first-come, first-served basis.

For more information on Operation Happiness or Clark County Community Services, call Debbie Fatkin at 744-5034.

FairyTails Pet Spaw

Sometimes those in need during the holiday don’t need food or new clothing or help paying the bills.

Sometimes all they need is a visitor, someone to help lift their spirits and make them feel loved and appreciated.

That is where Heather Carter and the FairyTails Pet Spaw come in.

Each year around Christmas, Carter, some of her clients and their four-legged friends take a couple evenings to visit retirement homes in the community, including Fountain Circle and Rose Mary C. Brooks Place.

The furry friends visit each resident in the building, playing, snuggling in bed and enjoying belly scratches from all of them.

While some of the canine visitors are trained service animals, others are show dogs or even just loveable pets who are well behaved and good around strangers.

Carter said the visits have been going on for about nine years, and each year features a mix of dogs that have visited before and dogs who are new to the program.

Carter and the other volunteers also collect gifts for the residents, including blankets, socks, books, crossword puzzles and stuffed animals.

She said the people getting gifts are always appreciative, but the real magic of the night comes from watching them interact with the dogs.

“In one case there was a man sitting in a room and I asked the nurse if I could approach him,” Carter said. “The workers there said he hadn’t talked at all over the years he was there, but when he saw the dogs he started to come over and look at them. Finally he said, ‘What dog is that?’ and we had a conversation about my dog and the dogs he used to have.”

Carter said she rarely is able to leave without tears in her eyes, and she gets requests from residents and staff to bring the dogs back each year.

For more information on how to help, call FairyTails Pet Spaw at 744-7729.

St. Vincent DePaul Angel Tree

Decades ago, when Richard and Maureen Brantigan moved to Winchester from London and began attending St. Joseph Catholic Church, they brought with them a tradition of helping children and the elderly have a better Christmas.

For 20 years, the St. Vincent DePaul Society at St Joe’s has operated an angel tree during the holiday season.

“There’s just so many people with so many needs,” Richard Brantigan said. “Christmas time is hard for people. The cost of living goes up, the cost of feeding children over the break increases.”

When the winter approaches, the organization’s 40 volunteers reach out to families the church has helped previously in the year to put together Christmas lists from the children.

Each child gets some clothes and one wish list item of their choice. Wish list items can range from video game consoles to sports equipment and beyond, the Brantigans said.

“A lot of kids want dolls, and this year remote controlled cars have been very popular,” Maureen Brantigan said.

Each child is given an anonymous tag on the tree, which is displayed at the parish. People wanting to participate take a tag, purchase the items on it and return the gifts to the church where St. Vincent DePaul volunteers gather them and deliver them to children.

The angel tree also includes some nursing home residents as well, Richard Brantigan said.

The society was able to help 128 children this year, with an average of $75 being spent on each child for a total cost of about $10,000 to run the program. The Brantigans said St. Vincent DePaul helps to cover the costs through fundraisers like the Friends of the Poor Walk every year in September.

“That’s a way for people who want to help to donate time or money,” Richard Brantigan said.

Some funding is also raised through a Knights of Columbus bingo night that volunteers are also welcome to attend.

For more information on the St. Vincent DePaul Society or how to help with the angel tree, call St. Joseph Catholic Church at 744-4917.

Local gift drives

For those who want to help others this holiday season but may not have the time to volunteer, there are several organizations in Clark County collecting toys and other donations to distribute to children this Christmas.

The Clark County Fire Department collects toys every winter to distribute to local children in need. Firefighters crammed a fire engine full of toys in November to be distributed this month. The department will still accept some donations at fire houses.

The Winchester Police Department, Clark County Sheriff’s Office and Kentucky State Police have annual cram the cruiser drives to raise toys and money for gifts. A cruiser is currently parked outside the Clark County Courthouse Annex building for donations.

The Rocky Mountain Horse Association is collecting food, clothes, toys and coats for families in need throughout Appalachia. Donations can be made at the RMHA office at 71 S. Main St. Items needed are nonperishable food items, non-broken toys and clean coats in good shape.