By DEBORAH GERTZ-HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
It hadn't been a good year for Carol and her family.
Working three jobs, she barely could make ends meet, then a workplace injury sidelined her right at the holidays.
Paying the bills, let alone buying Christmas presents, just wasn't possible.
"I couldn't get unemployment. I didn't have insurance. I didn't have nothing," Carol, not her real name, said. "The harder I tried, I kept on going down, down, down."
Then one December day, something happened to change her outlook — and her life.
"This great big truck showed up at my house. They said we have something for you. They brought in a whole bunch of stuff," she said with tears still choking her voice some 20 years later. "We didn't wait until Christmas. It was right then and there. The kids were so happy, laughing. I counted myself so lucky. They made my year that year."
A year with no Christmas became a holiday to remember for Carol and her family thanks to The Quincy Herald-Whig's Good News of Christmas campaign. The 24th edition of the Good News campaign kicks off today to make the holidays, and the future, brighter for 47 area families.
Just like it did for Carol.
"It just changed everything," she said. "I was bitter, thought the whole world was against me. But when that truck came, it just kind of changed things. It made me feel like somebody special. I sat down, the kids sat down and we prayed and thanked God."
With help from Good News, Carol got back on her feet. Today she owns a business, a house, a car and does what she can to help others to return the favor.
"It's not about having," Carol said. "It's all about giving and helping other people."
Area residents can help by providing donations of cash, toys, clothing and other new merchandise specified on "wish lists" published in The Herald-Whig or by volunteering their time.
"Christmas time gives us an opportunity to share our holiday spirit with others, to share our blessings with other people whether that's our time to shop or wrap, whether it's sharing our resources that will make a difference for somebody else," said Emily Robbearts, who serves as casework coordinator for the campaign.
"Many of us feel we have been blessed through the year with good health, steady employment, whatever our situation is, and this time of year we think ‘Gosh I really feel like I want to give back and support somebody who needs extra assistance.' The Good News program gives many opportunities to do that," she said. "Certainly there's many programs happening throughout the Christmas season people can give to and support. This is another way people can put their hands together, their funds together and really make a difference for a family."
Anyone wanting to help with the campaign can do so by showing up at the Quincy Mall Community Room, which will become the Good News Volunteer Center on Monday, Nov. 26.
The center will be open 6-9 p.m. weekdays and 1-5 p.m. weekends through Wednesday, Dec. 12, when boxes are topped-off and sealed for delivery. Trucks will deliver gifts to outlying distribution points on Thursday, Dec. 13 while recipients in the Quincy area will pick up their presents.
"We need people who can go out and shop for us. We need wrappers. We just need a lot of help," said Dustin Hall, the campaign's volunteer coordinator.
"A lot of families who come to volunteer don't have money to make a cash donation to the program, but what they do instead is they volunteer their time. Whether people volunteer their time or make a cash donation, it's an opportunity for us to get those presents bought, wrapped and delivered."
The United Way of Adams County works with the campaign to select the Good News cases and to coordinate services. Herald-Whig staff this year coordinate the volunteer effort to make the holidays happier for the Good News families.
Making Christmas merry for the kids is the goal for many Good News families.
"The shopping list for children was very full. For the shopping list for Mom and Dad, we had to go back ask what do they need, what would they appreciate so they can feel that Christmas joy for themselves," Robbearts said. "They want to focus on their kids or on things for their homes. Several are in need of kitchen items, pans, towels, sheets instead of things for themselves."
Caseworkers on both sides of the Mississippi River help identify families that most could benefit from the campaign.
"A lot of families have been working hard and something happened in the past year. It might have been a job loss, a medical situation which has given them a setback or made things really tight," Robbearts said. "They're working hard to hold it together but don't have any extra for Christmas."
Eight of the 47 families have been adopted by a church, business or civic group. "It would be great to get more people involved on the adoption side," Robbearts said. "If anybody wants to adopt a case, it's not too late. We definitely have a process in place to help make it a real easy experience to adopt a family."
The needs are great again this year from car repair to "big ticket" items like washers, dryers, stoves and furniture.
The best way for people to help with some of those "big-ticket" needs is through financial contributions to the campaign.
"We get a lot of calls from people who see in a story that somebody needs a washer or dryer and they want to donate those big things. We don't have the infrastructure or processes to accept those," Robbearts said. "If people have those things and want to give them to someone, Good News might not be the best way to donate that item."
But the campaign can work with those wanting to donate services, such as dental work, to families.
"Maybe an autobody shop would really love to fix somebody's car for them. We have people who need that. We can coordinate that," Robbearts said.
That kind of help can turn a life, and a family, around.
"You get so down you feel like giving up, then something happens that kind of boosts you up because somebody really does care," Carol said. "When I look back where I was at, I've come so far since then. I've got so much lot to be thankful for — even back then. I just didn't know it. I think that was one of the best Christmases we ever had."
The Quincy Herald-Whig's Good News of Christmas campaign kicks off today to make the holidays brighter for 47 area families.
"There's a lot of people who understand the benefit of helping out a family who really has nothing or maybe is down on their luck, maybe had a bad year, lost a job," said Dustin Hall, the campaign's volunteer coordinator. "It's amazing to see all these different people who volunteer their time to help these families out even though they're busy with their own families."
The 24th annual campaign offers several ways for area residents to help:
• Drop boxes for donated gifts are available at several locations including The Quincy Herald-Whig, Kmart, ShopKo, Wal-Mart, the Quincy Mall customer service desk near Krieger's, outside of Bergner's, outside of Penney's, Sam's Club and Farm & Home Supply.
• The Good News Volunteer Center opens Monday, Nov. 26 in the Quincy Mall Community Room. Center hours will be 6-9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 1-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
• Monetary contributions to the campaign may be dropped off at the volunteer center or mailed to The Quincy Herald-Whig, in care of Good News of Christmas, 130 S. Fifth, Quincy, IL 62301. Donations may be directed to a specific Good News family; note the case number on the check.
• The United Way of Adams County coordinates the adoption process for Good News cases. More information about adopting a case is available by calling Emily Robbearts at 224-1223.
• The Good News program is not equipped to accept used appliances or furniture for cases, but fulfilling "big ticket" service needs, such as dental care or car repair, is available by calling Robbearts.
More information about how to help the campaign is available by calling Dustin Hall or Nathan Daly at 506-1783.