Couple's voluntary efforts benefit Good News of Christmas campaign

Posted: Nov. 30, 2013 8:36 pm Updated: Dec. 28, 2013 8:54 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

Ray and Donna Johnson like to stay busy and help the community.

To meet those objectives, the Johnsons became active volunteers after returning to Quincy seven years ago from Park Forest, where they lived before Ray retired as a teacher at Rich Central High School in Olympia Fields.

The Quincy Herald-Whig's Good News of Christmas campaign has been one of the beneficiaries of the couple's public-service efforts.

For the past five years, the Johnsons have gotten involved each December in wrapping presents destined for down-on-their-luck families aided by the Good News campaign.

"I enjoy wrapping packages, and so does my wife," Ray Johnson said. "It gets us out of the house and gives us something to do."

Several years ago, Johnson started assisting the campaign in another way as well. He was asked to help set up and arrange transportation for bicycles bought at Wal-Mart for children served through the program. He's been doing this each year since.

Once the campaign enters its final stages and organizers begin buying and wrapping presents for the needy families, a special category of bicycle gift tags is set aside for Johnson. These tags spell out exactly what type and size of bike is needed and whether it's for a girl, a boy or even an adult.

Johnson then takes those tags to Wal-Mart and passes them along to a salesman who, in turn, selects the right bicycle to meet the needs of the individual recipient.

"I don't pick out the bikes," Johnson said. "I let them (the bike salesmen at Wal-Mart) do that. They take care of that."

Once the bikes are assembled at the store and properly tagged for the identified Good News case, Johnson is called back to pick up the bicycles and transport them in his Ford Ranger to the Good News distribution center.

The bikes are then given to the recipient families when they come to pick up all the gifts designated for them.

"We really don't know the families other than what's written about them in the paper," Johnson said.

However, he has gotten a chance to see first-hand the reaction of several families when they arrive at the distribution center to collect their gifts, including any bicycles earmarked for children. The response from those families is often tearful and full of gratitude, he said.

Johnson believes the campaign is truly helping many families have a brighter Christmas while they struggle to make ends meet.

"It makes a nice difference for them," he said.

Donna Johnson said she, too, enjoys getting involved in the Good News campaign as a volunteer gift wrapper -- a job that's needed and appreciated each year.

"We just enjoy giving to others, and this was one way that we could give to others and help people out," she said.

The Johnsons get involved in other community-service projects as well. Both are active with the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP). For example, they will periodically deliver groceries to shut-ins. "They call us whenever they need us," Donna Johnson said.

Ray also spends a lot of time driving cancer patients to hospitals for doctor visits, she said.

The Johnsons also got involved several months ago at Quanada, where they pack groceries in the shelter's food pantry.