Can Christmas Cheer Happen in a Pandemic? Patrick County Believes So.

Christmas saved for some low-income Southwest Virginians

By Amie Knowles

November 18, 2020

Christmas isn’t off in Patrick County. Secret Santas are moving full speed ahead. 

STUART – COVID-19 won’t stop a longstanding tradition at Legacy Insurance and Financial Services in Patrick County. 

The Christmas Cheer program, headed by Johnny Brown and team member Michelle Salisbury, will go on as scheduled this year.

Like most things in 2020, it’s got a few different twists. This year, parents completed applications for their children online, rather than in-person. However, the idea remained much the same.

If a family who lives in Patrick County states a financial need which prevents them from buying Christmas gifts for the children, Legacy’s Christmas Cheer program steps in. The only thing the program asks is that parents don’t sign children up for similar community events – that way, the generosity spreads further throughout the community. 

“They try to do kids ages one through 12. We do have some children that are younger than one. We still get for those,” Salisbury said. “And then if there’s multiple children in the home, if there’s a teenager in the home, then they get listed on the application as well. We don’t turn any of them away.”

The Nice List

Each family fills out an application expressing their unique needs and the children’s wants. Everything from a new pair of socks to a brand new bike often makes the list. 

“It has if they need a coat, undergarments, shoes – we try to get a full outfit. We always try to make sure they have shoes and coats,” Salisbury said. “We get two toys and then we try to have one of the toys be an educational toy. It’s something that they like. The parents are the ones letting us know what they like. And then they also let us know their favorite color.”

Once the parents complete the application, Secret Santas do the rest. Five community businesses jumped at participating this year. They include Honduras Coffee Shop, Blue Ridge Furniture, Legacy Insurance, Poor Farmer’s Market and Boyd’s restaurant. 

Those interested in selecting items for children simply go to one of those businesses and pick a tag containing a child’s wants and needs. Then they go shopping.

“It is great,” Salisbury said. “The response that we have from businesses and just the people in the community in general, it’s amazing to see.”

This year, 275 children will benefit from the program. Salisbury noted that the number barely fluctuated from the 2019 season, even with the coronavirus’s economic hardships. 

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Distributing the Gifts

In December, staff and volunteers at Legacy come together for a three-day event. That’s when people bring their donations and drop them off at the business. 

“We have people that put everything in bags,” Salisbury said. “We like to put them in the black trash bags, so that way if kids would happen to be with their parents, they don’t see anything.”

There’s another aspect that will slightly change.

“As far as when the parents come to get the gifts this year, it will be done a little bit different. Before, we would have them come inside and get their tag and they would have to drive around to the back of the building and it would be loaded into their vehicle,” Salisbury said. “Due to COVID this year, we’re doing it a little different. We’re having everything outside.” 

This year, parents stay in their vehicles and do a drive-thru style present pickup. They pull up to a tent, where a staff member or volunteer greets them and checks their name. Then, a separate staff member or volunteer will bring out the family’s gifts and load them into the car. 

Spreading the Cheer

Community donations help the program flourish each year.

“If everybody doesn’t get sponsored, we go out and do the shopping ourselves,” Salisbury said. “That also helps pay for food boxes for the families. The donations that we get, that goes to buy anything that the sponsors don’t get. If they don’t get a coat, then we make sure the child has a coat. And then if they get one toy and not another, then we always make sure they have everything they’re supposed to have in their bag.” 

Salisbury noted that Legacy doesn’t limit Christmas Cheer donations to November and December. Oftentimes, people donate throughout the year – and not every dollar comes from within county limits.

“The response that we have to people wanting to donate, to me, that’s just amazing,” Salisbury said. “It’s not just people who live in Patrick County. It’s people who may work in Patrick County. And it’s people who may have lived in Patrick County at some point and they moved away, they still make donations. It’s just amazing to see everyone come together and want to help out the children in Patrick County.” 

As the gifting season approaches, Salisbury looked forward to impacting local families in a positive way.

“It just fills your heart so much with joy that it’s like contagious,” Salisbury said. “You just want to keep doing it over and over.”

Christmas Joy

Even in 2020, the local company looks forward to sharing Christmas Cheer.

“We don’t want to see any child wake up on Christmas Day and not have anything. It doesn’t matter, really, what the income level is. If they need help, we help,” Salisbury said. “It’s one of those [situations where] it’s not the children’s fault. And it’s not the parents’ fault either. Especially this year with COVID and all that, things have changed this year. We try to make sure everyone is helped, regardless.”

For those interested in sponsoring a child’s Christmas, contact Salisbury at [email protected]

Amie Knowles reports for The Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected] 

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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