GROWING up in foster homes, Rusty Williams experienced what it was like to miss out on being able to celebrate Christmas like most of us are accustomed to, telling Herald-Whig Staff Writer Edward Husar that "the only Christmases we ever got were from people who would donate and stuff like that."
Those vivid childhood memories prompted Williams and his wife, Paula, to try to make a positive difference for those less fortunate this holiday season.
The owners of Revelry and the Park Bench in downtown Quincy will donate proceeds from a Friday evening event to kick-start the 30th annual Good News of Christmas campaign sponsored by The Herald-Whig, which strives each year to assist 50 families in need in West-Central Illinois and Northeast Missouri.
The event, billed as "The Good News Before Christmas," will take place from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday at Revelry, 121 N. Fourth. It will feature celebrity bartenders, drink specials, a 50-50 raffle and a free taco bar. In addition, a live band will perform beginning at 9 p.m.
Moreover, those attending are urged to bring personal care items, such as toothpaste, shampoo, soap and deodorant, that will be collected, sorted and distributed to the 50 families selected this year to receive support. Cash donations to assist those families also will be accepted.
For Rusty Williams, the gesture is personal.
"I believe that there's always somebody in need, and if you have the means to help your fellow man, then you should do it," he said. "We have the means now, so I'm ready to give it back."
That sentiment has been the hallmark of the Good News of Christmas campaign since its inception in 1989, as suggested by Herald-Whig General Manager Max Crotser. He previously had worked in St. Louis where the Post-Dispatch had a Christmas campaign to help families in need.
Mary Winters, Promotions/Market Research Manager Bruce Tomlinson and Circulation Director Peter A. "Tony" Oakley took that idea and brought it to fruition.
To date, more than $1.75 million has been donated to help more than 1,500 families on both sides of the Mississippi River, a testament to what Winters called "the heart of the people in our region."
Sadly, the need is as great as ever, and we once again urge the regional community to answer the call Friday and in the weeks ahead to help offer hope to families worried about how they will pay their bills and provide Christmas for their children and grandchildren.
Financial contributions play a critical role in the campaign, providing organizers with the funds necessary to help families in crisis. Individuals, churches, Scout troops and other organizations adopt cases. Volunteers shop for, wrap and deliver presents. Skilled workers donate their expertise to make vital repairs to homes and automobiles.
The Good News of Christmas campaign continues to be a remarkable, enduring community effort. Rusty and Paula Williams are the latest in an impressive list of people, businesses and community groups to step forward.
And to all, we are thankful. Because in the end, all of us working together can once again make a significant difference in the lives of those who need us the most. And that is what the spirit of Christmas -- and the Good News of Christmas campaign -- is all about.