While many Johnson Countians are savoring the sights and sounds of the holiday season, others are struggling to survive.
Instead of enjoying holiday shopping at local stores, these residents are striving to meet their family’s basic needs for food, clothing and shelter.
That’s where the Johnson County’s cities step in each year with their mayoral Christmas tree funds. All together, these funds may generate thousands of dollars for local residents.
“Until I became involved in the Olathe Mayor’s Christmas Tree Fund, I didn’t realize how basic some of these needs are,” said Tony Melchionne, 2014 campaign chairman.
Olathe’s campaign goal is $140,000. Money will go to 16 organizations that serve local children’s needs for food, health care, clothing, shoes and school supplies, he said. The fund has raised $500,000 since its creation and is on target to reach $1 million by 2017.
“It’s amazing how broadly this campaign impacts our community,” he said. “Even though the economy has improved, the needs of our community continue to grow.”
Other Johnson County cities with mayor’s Christmas tree funds include Shawnee, which raised $15,252 last year; the Prairie Village Mayor’s Holiday Tree Fund, which generated $11,000, and the Downtown Overland Park Mayor’s Christmas Tree Fund, which raised $5,000.
Shawnee’s 2014 donations will benefit Head Start of Shawnee Mission, a nonprofit agency serving low-income children, said Vicki Charlesworth, assistant city administrator. “The mayor selects a charity each year that will have an impact on the citizens of Shawnee,” she said.
Participants may buy $5 ornaments that are handmade by Shawnee children. The ornaments are hung on the Mayor’s Christmas Tree, which will be located in the lobby at City Hall and on display during the “Christmas Around Town” celebration Dec. 6 for the annual Mayor’s Tree Lighting. To donate, mail a check payable to the City of Shawnee to the Mayor’s Christmas Tree Fund, 1110 Johnson Drive, Shawnee, KS 66203.
Meghan Buum, Prairie Village public information officer, said money raised for the Prairie Village Mayor’s Holiday Tree Fund helps qualified Prairie Village residents with utility assistance, home maintenance needs, food assistance and other vital needs, including helping homeless students.
“There are 14 homeless students in our city and we’re working with the Shawnee Mission Education Foundation to ensure they can remain in their home school district,” she said. The campaign kicks off with a ceremony from 6 to 7 p.m. Thursday in Corinth Square.
Donations can be made to the Prairie Village Municipal Foundation, Attn: Mayor’s Holiday Tree, 7700 Mission Road, Prairie Village, KS 66208. Donations can also be made online at www.prairievillagefoundation.org.
Robin Fish, executive director, Downtown Overland Park Partnership, said money raised through this year will benefit the Heartstrings Community Foundation, which assists adults with development disabilities to live independent lives. This year’s lighting ceremony was Nov. 21. .
To make a donation, call 913 642-2222, or mail a check to DOPP, 7315 W. 79thSt., Overland Park, KS 66204. Checks should be made payable to the “Heartstrings Community Foundation.”
The Olathe fund benefits local organizations such as Catholic Charities, Health Partnership Clinic, Johnson County Christmas Bureau, Johnson County Interfaith Hospitality Network and the Olathe Public Schools Foundation, said Karen Hooven, assistant to the mayor.
“Olathe Optimists originally administered the fund,” she said. “Since 2007, the fund has been administered by a board appointed by Mayor Copeland.”
Last year a new program, “Pennies for Shoes,” was started at Olathe schools. Students compete to see which grades can bring in the most change, which goes into a children’s shoe fund, Hooven said. The money provides low-income parents with gift cards for their children’s shoes.
“The students raised $18,000 last year,” she said. “Getting a new pair of shoes is something all children can relate to.”
An annual event helping to raise money for the fund is the First Watch Egg-stravaganza, she said. The event raises about $5,000 a year. The restaurant donates food and local celebrities are servers. People pay $20 for tickets. This year, Farmers Insurance purchased tickets for the entire second seating, she said.
Hooven said thanks to community partners there are no fund overhead expenses, which allows 100 percent of donations to go directly to beneficiaries. All charities are required to have a 501(c)(3) designation. Each charity is selected following a grant application process.
The annual campaign period is Oct. 1 through Dec. 31, but donations are accepted anytime. Checks can be made payable to the Mayor’s Christmas Tree Fund and sent to the city of Olathe, Office of the Mayor, P.O. Box 768, Olathe, KS 66051-0768. Donations can also be made online. Donations are tax deductible.