Christmas comes early for Haywood families

By Jessi Stone Assistant editor | Dec 08, 2013
Photo by: Jessi Stone Volunteers work to sort donated items on Friday morning at the pavilion next to Maggie Valley Town Hall.

Christmas came early for more than 1,000 needy families in Haywood County on Saturday thanks to two men with giving hearts.

Giving is what Johnny Strickland, of Plant City, Florida, and Ron Miller, of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, do all year long. They use all their resources and connections in the corporate world to feed and cloth people who need it.

Strickland runs a ministry called Network of Promise while Miller heads up a nonprofit Food for Tots.

“His ministry and my ministry work to see that no child goes to bed hungry,” Strickland said.

As luck would have it, Terri Crowder, of Maggie Valley, was in the right place at the right time when she met Strickland at a motorcycle event in Maggie. They began talking about his ministry and how he delivers truckloads of food, clothing and toys to communities in need.

“He started telling me what he does and of course I asked how we could get on the list,” she said.

Once Crowder showed Strickland the need here, he decided to add Haywood County to his list of stops before Christmas. While it is a countywide effort, the town of Maggie Valley agreed to allow the distribution to take place at the pavilion next to town hall.

On Friday morning, many volunteers from churches, civic associations, schools and the town gathered at the pavilion to sort out the items from four transfer trucks brought in by Strickland and Miller. Toys and clothes filled up the pavilion and another transfer truck full of food to feed families.

Crowder, who helped coordinate the effort, said many agencies in the county worked together to pull off a huge distribution like this. Haywood County Schools. Department of Social Services and churches all worked together to provide names of families who may need assistance.

Aleasa Glance, Haywood County Schools student service director, said she was able to find 1,000 families who were “pre-qualified” for assistance because of income and children in the home. Invitations were sent out to all the families to come to the distribution.

If there were still items available after all the invited families came through on Saturday, Crowder said she had a list of people collected from area churches who were not “pre-qualified” but who needed assistance. She said if all goes well this year, there’s a good chance Strickland and Miller will come back next year.

“We will give until everything is gone,” she said. “People have been pouring out to help us. It’s been amazing.”

When asked why he did this, Strickland said, “Because we want to.” As a retired businessman and pastor, he said he had all the money he needed and wanted to use the rest to help feed children. Network of Promise often contracts with FEMA after a disaster to bring in its trucks full of food, water and blankets for victims.

But he also uses his trucks for these types of distributions. All the products brought in are salvage items that would otherwise be thrown out by top retailers. The clothing items still have tags on them and toys are still in the original packages.

“As a corporate owner, you get to know all these companies,” Strickland said.
And they’d rather donate than throw it away so I go get it with my trucks.”

Miller estimated that the total donated items had a retail value of $350,000. The Disney movie donated probably equaled about $60,000 alone.

Each qualified family received a 40-pound box of food and toys and clothing for their children and health and beauty items. The volunteers assisted each family with finding the items they needed. The Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce contributed by providing breakfast and lunch for everyone at the distribution.