For the love of children

Project Christmas Love helps provide presents to Haywood County children
By Caroline Klapper | Dec 21, 2012
Photo by: Caroline Klapper Lily Trantham, 2, peeks out from under her mother's arm while her parents pick out presents for her and her sister from the toys donated to Project Christmas Love.

The past year has been one of the most difficult of Katie Lanning’s life.

She recently had her third child, but at a time when her family should be celebrating a new life, Lanning has been worrying about how to give her children a good Christmas.

Her husband got laid off from his job, and while that blow would be difficult enough to deal with during the holidays, her father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this past year.

“Times are really, really hard,” Lanning said with emotion.

But even with all of the hardships her family is facing, she and many other Haywood County families in need will be able to have presents under the tree for their children this Christmas thanks to Project Christmas Love.

Every year Haywood Christian Ministries works with the Department of Social Services and many organizations, churches and individuals to collect monetary and toy donations from families that qualify for the program. After weeks of work from dedicated volunteers, the toys are finally organized and ready for parents to pick them up, which is what happened this week at First United Methodist Church in Waynesville.

Among those parents was Lanning, who as she waited with 4-month-old Felipe to select presents for him and her other two children, talked about how thankful she was for Project Christmas Love.

“I’m just glad they’re here to help families in need,” she said.

This year about 235 children are being helped through Project Christmas Love, which meant organizing a lot of toys.

Volunteer Pat Russell said things have been running pretty well, despite the absence of HCM Executive Director Lisa James, who is in the hospital after being involved in a serious car accident.

Normally, James would be at the helm of the project, but in the wake of her accident, all of the volunteers have stepped up to make sure Project Christmas Love is still successful.

“I just like to do it because I feel like it’s what the Lord wants me to do to help people,” Russell said. “A lot of times you don’t have the money to help as much as you want to but you can always give your time.”

“I think it just shows the love in the community for the children,” added Jo Ann Henderson-Calhoun, who was working to keep everything organized.

For DSS employee and volunteer Jennifer Mason, Project Christmas Love is one of her favorite times of the year.

“It’s very rewarding,” she said, as she helped a mother pick out toys for her daughters. “I know the kids in Haywood County will have Christmas because of this. It’s wonderful.”

It’s definitely wonderful for Natasha Aldridge and her four children.

“Without Haywood Christian Ministry, I don’t know what we’d do,” she said.

Aldridge said her husband is on disability, and they can barely afford to pay their regular bills nevertheless buy Christmas presents.

“It’s kind of hard at Christmas,” she said. “I love what they do. It helps me out a lot. Every little bit helps with me.”