Launched the day before Thanksgiving, the impassioned campaign is seeking the donation of packaged, or homemade, Christmas ornaments that will be distributed to storm-impacted families in time for the decoration of their repaired, rebuilt or temporary residences.
Deadline for dropping off ornament donations to any of four collection points is Friday, Dec. 9.
Organizations backing the unique cause include United Way of Bradley County, The Salvation Army Cleveland Corps, the Cleveland/Bradley Disaster Relief Group and the Bradley County Long-Term Recovery Organization.
Collection points include the United Way office located downtown, The Salvation Army’s Inman Street Coffeehouse and the Distribution Warehouse on Barney’s Lane, and the Cleveland Daily Banner offices on 25th Street.
“What an uplifting way to end an otherwise difficult year for many of these families,” said Matt Ryerson, vice president of Community Investment Strategies at United Way who also chairs the community recovery’s Unmet Needs Committee.
He added, “To receive a gift from a neighbor that symbolizes the spirit of giving that has been so present in our community, and has been especially on display since those devastating storms ... says so much of what our people are all about and what we believe.”
Ryerson said Cleveland and Bradley County residents have never turned deaf ears to neighbors in need. The year’s closing weeks is no exception.
“If our community can be described in any traditional phrase, the ‘Spirit of Giving’ comes to my mind,” the United Way leader offered. “This ornament collection for those impacted by storms and having lost all their Christmas ornaments is just another tangible example of that spirit that exists every day in our community.”
New ornaments — whether for the Christmas tree or other holiday decorations for the home — are encouraged, but children are invited to create homemade ornaments that also can be dropped off at any of the collection points.
Ruthie Forgey, Salvation Army corps administrator in Cleveland, described the ornament donation intiative as “an answer to a prayer.”
“Donating an ornament is like donating an exclamation point ... proclaiming that we are rebuilding, we are healing and we have hope,” Forgey said. “It will be a symbol of hope for the recipients for years to come.”
Groups backing the holiday drive recognize the message behind its intent. Many families continue to rebound from devastating loss, but a simple gift like a Christmas ornament can lend perspective to their recovery, according to program representatives.
“These people lost everything, including their Christmas decorations,” according to Kelli Bilyeu of the Bradley/Cleveland Disaster Relief Group. “Most of their insurance wasn’t enough to cover the cost of everything lost. If everyone brought one ornament or some type of decoration to a dropoff location, you could make their Christmases a little brighter.”
An organization at the epicenter of Bradley County’s storm recovery is one with a keen eye to community needs — past, present and future. It is the Bradley County Long-Term Recovery Organization whose board represents a cross-section of the community — emergency services, local government, civic groups, the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce and others.
Instrumental in LTRO’s work is its case manager supervisor who works with storm survivors and impacted families almost daily. She is Lisa Mantooth who reports to LTRO recovery director Jim Polier. One of Mantooth’s roles is to keep a finger on the community’s storm recovery pulse. She understands the needs, big and small.
“During this season of giving, a small donation of an ornament can help the healing of a family who has lost so much this year,” she said.
Steve Watson, a Bradley County native and co-founder of the Cleveland/Bradley Disaster Relief Group who hosted the popular TV series “Monster House,” agreed. Since five twisters ripped through the community’s heart, the degree of need among area families has ranged from mild to severe to lifesaving.
“Christmastime is the time for giving and in no time has the need to give been more important than it is this year,” Watson said. “While families who were victims of the storms are slowly getting their lives back together, there’s still a need for a little holiday magic.”
He added, “Together, we can give the gift of holiday cheer to those who need it more than ever. Little things like Christmas lights and decorations can give these wonderful people the Christmas magic they deserve.”
The four dropoff collection points offer a variety of hours.
Decoration donations may be delivered to the Salvation Army Coffeehouse from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily, and the Distribution Center’s hours are 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. United Way office hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and the Banner’s hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Today begins the final week for the Christmas ornament drive.