With the Letcher County Tree of Hope program taking a break from helping those in need, the Family Resource and Youth Services Centers (FRYSC) at each Letcher County school are working to make sure students have clothes and toys this Christmas.
This is the first time in more than 20 years that the Tree of Hope program has not worked with local agencies and organizations to compile a list of families for whom individuals, groups and businesses would buy presents. In previous years, the Tree of Hope has collaborated with FRYSC coordinators, Health Access Nurturing Development Services (HANDS) program, Kentucky River Community Care, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services and Head Start.
Ashley Elkins of Whitesburg and Keanna Webb of Jenkins took over Letcher County Tree of Hope Inc. on August 4, 2014 and obtained 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as a nonprofit organization. More than 500 children ages newborn to 18 received gifts through Tree of Hope last December.
Elkins said she couldn’t find enough volunteers to continue the program this Christmas. She said she has tried since April to get other people to take over the organization.
“It’s a lot more than two people can handle,” said Elkins. “We tried.”
In October, Elkins notified FRYSC coordinators that they wouldn’t be offering assistance through Tree of Hope this holiday season. FRYSC coordinators have relied on other programs, resources and community members to provide toys and clothes for children in need.
Martha Watts, FRYSC coordinator at Letcher Elementary School, said churches, local organizations, teachers and individuals provided gifts for about 100 families in the Letcher area.
“I had all those resources to pick up the slack,” said Watts. “It all worked out. ”
Watts noted that residents of Floridia with relatives in Letcher County have bought presents.
“They just wanted to give back to Letcher County,” said Watts. “I do think that our kids are very appreciative of what they get.”
Letcher schools also gave back to the community by collecting canned food for Calvary Campus, items for veterans and personal hygiene items for a domestic violence shelter and a homeless shelter.
If interested in providing new toys and clothes to school-age children, call one of the FRYSC coordinators at the following schools: Letcher County Central High School, 633-6091; Arlie Boggs Elementary School, 633-8160; Fleming-Neon Middle School, 855- 7098; Letcher Elementary School, 633-3146; Letcher Middle School, 633- 9400; Cowan Elementary School; 633- 1514; Martha Jane Potter Elementary School, 855-7398; West Whitesburg Elementary School, 633-8629; Whitesburg Middle School, 633-7772.
Persons or organizations interested in taking over the operation of the Tree of Hope program may call Elkins at 606-821-5767.