As we step into a new year, our Cleveland and Bradley County hometown — and the thousands of residents whose big hearts bring deep meaning to the word “home” — can be proud of its past year of accomplishments. These same miracle workers can reflect warmly on the holiday stretch from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, when the lives of those with need were made a little brighter by those who subscribe to the notion, “I am my brother’s keeper.”
Like many communities across America, ours truly steps up when the spirits of others spiral down.
Each achievement and every outreach — whether by churches, civic groups, nonprofits, neighborhoods or individuals — best define what Cleveland and Bradley County is all about, both now and in our future.
Yet, one task remains undone. Its goal is close and sits well within our reach.
We speak of the annual William Hall Rodgers Christmas Basket Fund, an initiative that delivered a box of food staples for the holidays, and beyond, to 1,068 Bradley County families on Dec. 21. In order to meet the growing need, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization set a goal of $28,000. To date, $25,428 has been collected — and $5,000 of this amount came in the late going from a kindhearted, anonymous donor.
Over the past few years, the Basket Fund — which is named in honor of a former Cleveland Banner editor whose longstanding philanthropy ended with his death from polio — has struggled to meet its financial objectives. Each year, the amount is eventually reached but only because of a handful of key donors whose gifts have made up the fundraising difference late in the season.
The current Christmas campaign, which began prior to Thanksgiving, will continue to accept last-minute donations until mid-January.
Some might ask, “If the Basket Fund has already delivered its food staples, why am I being asked to donate afterward?”
It is because the dedicated team of unpaid volunteers works hard to stretch every dollar — to the last penny — assuring that the annual drive is operated as efficiently, and as accountably, as possible. For this reason, the Basket Fund is well respected among food vendors who partner with the drive. They know they will receive payment even if it is delayed pending the completion of the Christmas initiative.
But Basket Fund leaders understand the holiday campaign faces change. This will be discussed by board volunteers soon. They recognize that, in order for the fund to continue making a difference in this community, new directions may be necessary in how and when fundraising takes place.
Those who read a front-page article published in our newspaper in the Dec. 31 edition realize that the initiative routinely survives on the contributions of some 100 donors. This includes both individuals and businesses. This limited number of supporters is hard pressed to reach the Basket Fund goal on their own. And we must remember, these same donors are being asked to step up for other Christmas causes that are just as legitimate. Such need creates a strain on the resources of those — individuals and organizations — who want to help, but whose own budgets limit their levels of giving.
The need is there ... even in a progressive community like ours.
One example came in a year when a box of food was delivered to a qualifying family. Volunteers discovered a second family that was living in a tent in the backyard. Obviously, a second box was given, as it should have been.
Another example came during a distribution one cold December when volunteers found a youngster in the recipient family’s yard ... in an inch of snow with no shirt and no shoes.
Yes, the Christmas season has ended. But no, the Basket Fund has still not met its goal. Slightly less than $2,500 is needed. Donations will be accepted through mid-January.
Those wishing to give may do so by mailing their checks to First Tennessee Bank, P.O. Box 4880, Cleveland TN 37320-4880 or dropping them off at First Tennessee Bank, 3870 Keith St.
Continuing to raise funds for a Christmas project that has been completed is not what the Basket Fund board wants. But times remain tough. And need dictates reality.
Change awaits the William Hall Rodgers Christmas Basket Fund in 2014.
But until then, we ask any who can help to consider doing so, if it is within your means and if the Basket Fund’s outreach is a difference that you would like to have a hand in making.