For many local children in need, this holiday season is going to be as magical as any other, thanks to the Jacksonville community's continued support of the annual Jacksonville Children's Christmas Tree program.

The program has been helping underprivileged children in Jacksonville have a very merry Christmas for more than 30 years. This year, through donations from individuals, churches, civic organizations, businesses and the hard work of numerous volunteers the program was able to provide gifts to 182 local children this year.

“This year has been rough on us all,” program incoming President Melodie Walters said. “We had even discussed in a meeting how we may not be able to meet all the program's expectations this year, as so many of us have been and continue to struggle right now.

“I've been a volunteer with this program for 33 years now, and there's always been families struggling and we've always been able to make things work out, but we knew this year was going to be especially hard,” Walters said. “And fortunately, because we are so blessed to live in such an amazing community, we were able to make this Christmas as magical as any other for all our kids! Thank you to everyone who participated, supported and helped make this Christmas spectacular!”

Local businesses that participated in this year's donation drive and gift-giving include Alliance Towing, Wal-Mart, River Run ATV Park, Sword's Gravel, Darr Chiropractic, Bruce Mellenbacher and the Salvation Army, Factory Connection, HOPE (Helping Others Pursue Enrichment) Inc., the People's Church, the Cherokee Family Motorcycle Club, Toys for Tots, Cardinal Health, the city of Jacksonville, Jacksonville Police Department, Jacksonville Fire Department and the Jacksonville Progress.

“All our banks – Texas National, Austin and Southside – really stepped up for us, too,” Walters said. “We especially want to thank them for their participation this year and every year. We are truly grateful we have them supporting our community. I'd also like to thank Factory Connection, for allowing me to continue to be a part of this program, as they have since I started working for them.

“There were so many individuals that helped in some way, I can't even name them all,” Walters continued. “So many people reached out, wanting to help – it never ceases to amaze me there are so many humble people eager to help, even if they themselves have struggled like a lot of us have this year.”

And the struggle was real, Walters said, as program organizers report receiving an increased number of first-time applicants seeking assistance this year.

“We saw a lot of new faces this year,” she said. “People who've never sought help from our program before this year. So many said to us 'I've never needed to do anything like this before this year.' Our hearts just went out to them.”

Walters said Christmas Tree Program clients are vetted for qualification for the service each year and while some families that apply don't qualify, an estimated 98 percent of applicants did qualify for participation in the program this year.

“I never want any child to wake up on Christmas Day and not have gotten a visit from Santa,” Walters said. “That's why we do this. That's why we're so thankful and grateful for everyone that supports the program and helps give these kids a little bit of Christmas magic. We just can't thank you enough.”

Monetary contributions may be made year-round to “Children's Christmas Tree Fund,” P.O. Box 2271, Jacksonville, TX 75766.

To learn more, visit the program's Facebook page, “Children's Christmas Tree.”

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