Christian Ministry of Lincolnton kicked off its largest fundraiser of the year on Monday.
The annual six-week long Christmas Fund effort, which drew in more than $116,000 last year, is designed to help impoverished, needy community families, like the Cobbs, from Lincolnton, celebrate the holidays without starving.
For children, the fundraiser collects enough toys to supply them each with two, not including coloring books, crayons and other small items volunteers add to each individual child’s Christmas goodie bag.
Both Victor and Stephanie Cobb suffer from health conditions that prevent them from maintaining work.
Victor, who once filled an $80,000-a-year job driving trucks across the country, had to back down from the career three years ago after losing his eyesight to glaucoma. He is now on disability.
“It’s hard to make it from month-to-month,” he said.
With metal rods in his eyes and decreasing peripheral vision, he is also no longer allowed to drive at night, in addition to other driving restrictions.
“Everybody thinks that because you get a disability check, you get a lot of money,” Victor said, “but you don’t — just enough to pay the bills.”
Stephanie suffers from chronic asthma. She also had a heart catheterization this week, Victor said.
The couple, which signed up earlier this week for Christmas Fund assistance, sat in the Christian Ministry office on Thursday, with numbers of others, seeking assistance for food and additional necessities.
“I’m tired of looking at the light bulb in my empty refrigerator,” Victor said.
Since Monday, nonprofit officials have interviewed at least 50 people daily, including 25 each for the Christmas Fund and normal everyday assistance, Executive Director Susan Brymer said.
With next year’s budget close to $362,000, the organization will again look to its annual Christmas Fund and community donors to fill the money gap and cover the more than $1 million in assistance needed to provide for clients’ food and other services each year.
Since January, Christian Ministry has spent roughly $224,000 of the $338,000 it budgeted for 2013, Brymer said, pointing out just how much financial aid stems from area churches, businesses and other individual donors.
The Christmas Fund originated long before Christian Ministry officially established itself in the city in 1977, Brymer said.
First United Methodist Church in Lincolnton partnered with local radio station WLON beforehand to carry out the fundraiser.
Volunteer Ralph Zello, who is over food pantry purchases, ventured out to area grocery stores on Thursday to buy staples for the organization’s food shelves, many of which have been lacking certain items for the fourth time this year, Brymer said.
Instead of buying certain items as soon as they fizzle out — which Brymer noted currently includes corn — the organization hands out additional items to clients needing food. Not only does the concept save money, but also ensures all resources are used.
Food is Christian Ministry’s driving force, Brymer said, and without it, the organization would fold, and certain populations of the community would waste away.
From just Christmas Fund money alone, the nonprofit supplied holiday food boxes and toys to more than 770 families and nearly 830 children last year.
Through providing individuals with basic life necessities, nonprofit officials seek to fulfill physical and spiritual cravings.
Brymer noted how Christian Ministry is a faith-filled facility — not a robotic government agency — concerned about the well being of each and every person who walks through its doors.
Money that officials don’t pull from the fund each holiday season is used to keep the organization afloat the rest of the year.
Roughly one-third of annual Christian Ministry funds stems from the Christmas Fund, particularly December donations.
“We aren’t a big-budget organization,” Brymer said, noting how some area churches — whose primary target group is much smaller in size than Christian Ministry’s — maintain much larger budgets.
Instead, the nonprofit depends on faith to stretch its dollars, Brymer noted.
With very few paid staff members, the organization relies heavily on volunteers, like Toy Coordinator Norma Hall, who donate their time daily throughout the holiday season and sometimes the entire year through because of the joy they experience when watching the ministry positively impact others’ lives.
Brymer said the facility uses the money that could be put toward more worker salaries to supply the food pantry and other services, ultimately benefiting more people in need.
Each year, Hall said, she is touched by the number of children — and parents — who shed tears when receiving that new bicycle, baby doll, stuffed animal or other special item.
“It makes it all worthwhile,” Hall said.
With a current surplus of sports balls, baby and Barbie dolls, Hall encouraged area residents to donate other types of toys this year, specifically for ages 9 to 14 — the age range most lacking in items, she said.
While the economy has tanked more than once in recent years, affecting all facets of society, organization officials are proud to say they have yet shutdown a service or go too long without a certain item or product.
“When Susan gets nervous,” Brymer said of herself, “the Lord doesn’t get nervous. He supplies. In 27 years, I have not seen Him let His people go without.”
She recalled the story of a man outside the soup kitchen facility one day who approached Hall’s husband John, the facility’s building supervisor.
While John extended him free food, thinking that to be the man’s primary need, he turned down the offer, seeking only a single roll of toilet paper.
“The things we take for granted,” Norma Hall said, shaking her head.
For more information on Christian Ministry or the Christmas Fund, individuals may stop by the facility, located at 207 Poplar Street, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday, or call (704) 732-0383.
Christmas Fund food boxes and toys will be distributed at the organization on Dec. 19.