Gifts for children await the holiday season in Kiowa's Fellowship Hall as part of the Christmas for Kids program. Credit: PHOTO COURTESY OF ERICA JOHNSON/ECCO

As the holiday season approaches, residents of Elbert County are once again demonstrating their remarkable spirit of giving. From coats to toy drives, local organizations and businesses are joining forces to ensure no one in the community is left without food, adequate clothing, or gifts under their Christmas tree.

One local organization, Elbert County Coalition for Outreach (ECCO), is making a significant impact in the community. Their Christmas for Kids program is designed to ensure that every child in Elbert County experiences the joy of the season. Applications for the program are being accepted now through 4 p.m. on Dec. 9 and can be picked up at one of three locations:

• ECCO, 336 Comanche St., Kiowa

• Elizabeth Fire Administration, 146 N. Elbert St., Elizabeth

• Elbert County Sheriff’s Office, 751 Ute Ave., Kiowa

The Fellowship Hall in Kiowa is filled with gifts as part of the Christmas for Kids program. Credit: PHOTO COURTESY OF ERICA JOHNSON/ECCO

ECCO Director Erica Johnson shared that the Christmas for Kids drive has been a community event for about 15 years. This is Erica’s sixth year organizing this event and she reflected on some of the changes she has made to the program, namely adding gift tags for each child.

“We used to have boxes available at different locations where people could buy toys and drop them off in the boxes. Doing the tags allows each child to receive gifts they truly will enjoy and is a much more specific and intentional way to give and help families in our community,” Johnson explained.

Once the applications are submitted, gift tags are created for each child based on their specific interests, wants and clothing/shoe sizes. These tags are then placed on trees that will be located at various business throughout Elizabeth and Kiowa beginning Nov. 18. Folks who wish to buy gifts for children in the community then pick a gift tag off the tree.

With high costs and inflation rates, it is anticipated there will be a large number of applications this year. “We have received 37 applications so far, which doesn’t sound like a lot but we accept applications all the way until Dec. 9, so there is a long way to go yet,” Johnson added, “and in one day this past week, we received 15 applications.”

Impressively, each application that comes in will receive gifts. The community really steps up to ensure each child in Elbert County has a present under their tree. “It is mind-blowing to see how many people want to give and on the flip side of that, how many people are in need. But it really is amazing to see how the community comes together,” Johnson said.

The American Legion in Elizabeth delivers food boxes in conjunction with the Christmas for Kids program. Credit: PHOTO COURTESY OF ERICA JOHNSON/ECCO

Gifts are distributed to families on Dec. 16 at the Fellowship Hall in Kiowa. Johnson describes the process of setting up and getting everything prepared: “It really is an amazing operation. The whole team picks up the toys and matches them to the appropriate application. The American Legion also works with us to make food boxes for each applicant. Both the Elizabeth and Kiowa fire departments assist in delivering all the food boxes to the Fellowship Hall for families to pick up. Families come and pick up their gifts and also go home with a delicious holiday meal courtesy of the American Legion.”

Johnson sees the impact of this program firsthand. “I have gotten to know these families and I know the struggles they are going through. My hope is that families use this program to help them get ahead. This is very much a hand-up situation, not a handout. If buying Christmas gifts this season means you won’t be able to pay bills in January, please use this program. This process is here to help families get through it.”

ECCO is committed to making a positive impact in the Elbert County community 365 days a year, not just during the holiday season, but as Johnson noted, “Christmas is the feel-good time.”  It’s an opportunity to bring a little joy to those who really need it and to see the community come together. “If I can help spread a little joy around the holidays, then I will have done my job,” Johnson said.

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