Children’s coats and boxed macaroni and cheese are desperately needed this year at the Johnson County Christmas Bureau holiday shop.
The annual shop, which serves low-income families during the holiday season, is short 3,000 children’s coats. People can donate gently used coats and macaroni and cheese directly to the holiday shop, which is temporarily located at the former Marshall’s in the northeast corner of the Great Mall in Olathe until Dec. 13.
“Kids grow so quickly each year and the weather is already bitterly cold,” said Jill Cline Evans, executive director of the Johnson County Christmas Bureau. “Our children’s coats go fast.”
In addition to coats, the shop gives out clothing, personal care items, gifts and food to clients. Everything is new except coats and books.
This year, the organization will help nearly 3,400 Johnson County families.
Clients are referred through various agencies, schools and religious organizations.
“Even though Johnson County is an affluent area, there are many families who are just two paychecks away from being in trouble,” Evans said. “We have a lot of clients who never needed help before, but they’ve either lost their job or went through a serious illness that requires high medical bills. For these people, Christmas is just a little bit out of their reach.”
The Johnson County Christmas Bureau began in 1960 as an adopt-a-family program. In 1977, it created the shop concept.
Eighty-six percent of the people it serves are women and children.
The shop is a symbol of hope for many families down on their luck, Evans said.
“When I was growing up, we knew our neighbors and when one of them was going through a rough time, everyone helped out,” she said. “Now it seems like people really don’t know if their neighbors are struggling. This is our way of helping each other.”
Evans became the executive director of Christmas Bureau in April. Although she’s new to the job, she’s no stranger to the organization.
She became a Christmas Bureau volunteer more than 20 years ago, when she was a stay-at-home mom looking to make use of her free time.
“The volunteers were friendly and I was struck by how committed they were to helping people,” she said. “All these years later, that hasn’t changed.”
She pointed out that that it takes around 3,000 volunteers to operate the shop from start to finish.
Whether it’s loading heavy boxes, organizing items, or walking a client through each department, every person who donates their time plays an important role, Evans said.
“This shop is really a Christmas miracle,” she said. “For all of us, this is the beginning of our holiday season.”
Although the shop runs to Dec. 13 this year, it is a 365-day effort.
Throughout the year, volunteers scour the sale racks at local stores for the best bargains. Donations are accepted every day.
Fundraisers play a large role as well.
Schools, cities and nonprofits raise money for the organization throughout the year. Eighty percent of the shop’s food supply comes from school food drives.
In September, the Johnson County Christmas Bureau held its annual Holiday of Hope gala, which raised $91,000.
Despite the generosity, there is still one thing on the Christmas bureau’s wish list that hasn’t been granted: a permanent home.
For the past 30-some years, the holiday shop has bounced from location to location around the county. Donations are stored in facilities scattered throughout the Kansas City metro area.
The organization needs space, particularly a climate-controlled facility, that could be used for the shop, storage and offices. Preferably in Johnson County, Evans added.
“We’re serving 12,000 individuals, it’s time for us to find a permanent spot,” she said. “Until that happens, we’re just grateful places like the Great Mall are kind enough to give a helping hand.”
On the Web
For more information about the Johnson County Christmas Bureau, or to make a monetary donation, visit www.jccb.org.