An old Cleveland tradition is looking for some new help.
The William Hall Rodgers Christmas Basket Fund had set a goal of $28,000 for this year’s drive, but as of Monday reported donations of $25,428.
“We’re going to be OK for this year,” said Horace Coffey, who serves as secretary-treasurer of the organization.
But Coffey and organization manager Todd Duggan say the charity is reviewing how it reaches the community for donations and they hope to bring in new contributors as they begin thinking about next year’s drive.
The Rodgers Christmas Basket Fund normally begins seeking donations around the first of November, but that leaves the gargantuan task of raising significant dollars in a very short amount of time.
Although the major push for donations begins in late fall each year, contributions can be made year-round.
“We need for more people to get involved,” Coffey said.
“When you look at our list of donors, it’s the same people who give all the time,” Coffey said. “Without them and their support we could not do what we do. But it takes money to buy the food and there are more in need and prices are going up.”
Coffey noted those on the donors’ list have supplied a stable foundation that has allowed the fund to continue.
“As far as new people, we’re just not getting them,” Coffey said. “This year we had less than 100 contributors total, and that includes businesses. We just don’t get [new] people.
He said the board would be meeting in January to determine what the fund needs to do in the future.
“We’re just raising $17,000 to $18,000 a year from individuals and businesses and have been fortunate to have some step in to give significant amounts at the end. But that’s not something to depend on,” Coffey said. “That speaks to the good heart of someone helping us out.”
Coffey said there will probably be an extended outreach to businesses.
“We haven’t really pushed businesses in the past,” he said. “We’ve relied more on individuals.”
He said the fund makes every attempt to serve everyone who has made an application with the fund but things have changed a great deal since he began working with the fund more than 40 years ago.
“We started very small with 50 boxes and $2,000 to $3,000 dollars,” Coffey said. “Now, we have to raise around $26,000 in a six-week period,” Coffey said.
Duggan said that task has become even more difficult with the proliferation of other charities in recent years.
“People are giving, just not to what we’ve got. There’s a lot of other good charities in Cleveland [receiving contributions],” Duggan said.
“Of course we are not in any competition with those charities. You can’t fault people if they want to give to something else. They’re giving and that’s the main thing,” Duggan said. “What we do is try to make sure those who are in need have a meal at Christmas and the boxes we prepare have enough staple food to actually go for a few more days than that.”
The boxes contain among other items a hen, flour, spaghetti sauce, potatoes and corn, but as generous as that seems Coffey says those have been cut down from past years because of costs.
This year, the fund distributed 1,068 boxes which averages to be $26 per box.
Coffey said the only expenditures outside of the food for the boxes that was spent this year was $300 to rent a room at the Museum Center at Five Points to house the registration process and what goes to the government for the fund’s 501(c)(3) status as a nonprofit organization.
Duggan said the fund pays an accountant to prepare its tax and financial papers, but that person gives the amount back to the fund.
Both Coffey and Duggan praised the 200-plus volunteers who help prepare the boxes and deliver them.
“Tri-State Warehouse gives us the space to do the preparation, International Paper gives us the boxes, the Bradley Central High football team helps with the packing and loading, First Tennessee Bank helps with the collection of donations, First Baptist Church offers their assistance, The Church at Grace Point does the home deliveries and The Banner helps us let people know we’re here,” Coffey said. “There is no way we could do what we do without them.”
He also said Cooke’s Food Store also was able to collect $2,400 toward this year’s drive.
In the end, it all comes down to helping those in need to have at least one day — Christmas — where life should seem a little brighter.
“There was one year we got a call from one of the people delivering the baskets,” Duggan recalled. “We only deliver one box per address but this turned out to be an unusual circumstance. There was a family in the house and another in a tent in the back yard.”
Coffey remembers taking his daughters out on a delivery one year.
“There must have been an inch of snow on the ground and there was a youngster in the yard with no shirt and no shoes,” he said. “I remember saying to the girls that family needed a lot more than a box of food.”
Both men say the fund will continue and are optimistic it will continue as long as people are interested in helping.
“We’re going to make it this year, but in the future years we’ll have a problem serving all who need help,” Coffey said. “We just have to find some new ways to reach out to individuals and industries.”
Duggan said being a donor or a volunteer is a great way to feel good.
“There is no greater feeling than that of giving and helping,” Duggan said. “We have a bandwagon everyone is invited to ride on, and [they] have the opportunity to feel what all of us do who make this a part of our lives every year.”
Donations may be mailed to First Tennessee Bank, P.O. Box 4880, Cleveland TN 37320-4880 or dropped off at First Tennessee Bank at 3870 Keith St.