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Triton project reaches out to Bourbon-area families

January 3, 2014

Volunteers of all ages pack food boxes to be distributed to families down on their luck. In the foreground are, from left, Merlin Schaefer, Triton exchange student from Germany; Ethan O’Connor, and Junki Park, Triton exchange student from South Korea.

BOURBON — The economy may be improving, but life is still not easy for some families. A parent may have lost a job. There may not be sufficient income to support the size of the family. Any number of circumstances may make life temporarily difficult. Add to that the stress of getting through Christmas while providing extra food and trying to buy presents for all the kids, and you have a recipe for frustration and depression.
At the same time, there are caring people and projects who go to great lengths to try to make Christmas a positive time for families in need. One such project is the Triton Christmas Project. Now in its third year, the TCP is serving more families than ever before.
Any family in the Triton school district (Bourbon, Etna Green, Tippecanoe, and surrounding area) was welcome to apply for Christmas aid. Although the deadline has passed for this year, families who missed out can apply next year.
The first year of the project was a time of getting people acquainted with a new idea. Last year, the TCP served a total of 38 families — all who applied. This year there were 61 families requesting assistance, all of whom were served through the generosity of caring businesses and individuals. All 61 families have children school age or younger. The total number of adults and children served this year is 275.
The Triton Christmas Project is a mission of the Marshall County Neighborhood Center. The Christmas Coalition in Plymouth coordinated by the Center has established a system where individuals, families, or businesses can “adopt” a family, providing them with food and gifts at Christmas. The Christmas Coalition served more than 300 families this Christmas.
In the small towns of the Triton district, however, this system would not work as well. It might not be possible to serve all families requesting aid because of lack of sufficient sponsors. Also, dignity and confidentiality are important in small towns where students see and recognize each other both in and out of school. A different paradigm was needed.
So, the TCP has developed a method which is highly organized, extremely confidential, and well able to handle all requests which come in. The schools (elementary and jr./sr. high) send a letter to families on free or reduced lunch or who might be interested in applying. The application was completely voluntary. It was returned to the school office, which maintains security over the application and passes it on to TCP. There, a small leadership cadre sorts the families requesting aid and determines what food products and gifts will be needed. Of the 38 TCP volunteers this year, only the three leaders see the names of families being helped.
Then began the real community effort as many individuals and organizations pitched in. Each family received a food basket containing a complete Christmas meal to be prepared by the recipients. There was a turkey or ham, depending upon the size of the family. Vegetables, breads, and desserts fill out the Christmas dinner.
On the application, parents will have indicated how many children live in the home younger than 18, their ages and genders, two or three “needs” each child has, and two or three “wants” for each child. A need, for example, might be a winter coat. A want might be a CD from a favorite rock star or a farm play set. TCP choses one need and one want for each child. Brands, colors, and styles can be very specific according to the child’s interests.
These gifts were then assigned a code and jumbled so that people buying the gifts do not know the child or the family they are buying for. The list of specific gifts is then farmed out to willing individuals, who buy the gift, wrap it in Christmas wrap, and return it to TCP headquarters identified with its assigned code.
As the distribution day approached, the leaders removed the code from each present and replaced it with the child’s first name to personalize the gift, collecting all gifts for children of a particular family in a large bag.
As for food, TCP buys most of its food from the Neighborhood Center economically because of the Center’s affiliation with the Northern Indiana Food Bank. Some food is collected through food drives, such as the one the Triton Performing Arts Department conducted as an admission fee to its Christmas concert.
What most people do not understand, however, is that TCP can take cash and buy seven times the food that individuals can buy at the store with the same money, due to the discounts available to the Neighborhood Center.
One unique feature of the Triton Christmas Project is the realization that children may not eat well over the Christmas school break. That is because their best hot meal of the day may be the school lunch. When school is not in session, children can suffer and parents can be frustrated trying to provide for them. For that reason, the family’s food basket also contains several boxes of simple staples such as macaroni and cheese and Ramen noodles, to help the family besides just on Christmas Day.
All gifts this year were provided by residents of the district, so no Project money had to be spent on presents. Participating in the gift buying were the congregations of the Bourbon United Pentecostal Church, the Country Church in Bourbon, the Bourbon First United Methodist Church, the Etna Green United Methodist Church, the Etna Green branch of PNC Bank, and several individuals.
Money to purchase food must all be raised locally. Generous individuals, businesses, and organizations provided enough funds this year so that providing the food was not a problem. Organizations participating included the Bourbon Lions Club, the Triton Kiwanis Club, the Bourbon Firefighters, the Etna Green Lions Club, the First United Methodist Church Penny Raiders, and the First UMC Missions Committee. Businesses contributing were Harmony Marketing in Bourbon, Bourbon First State Bank, Robin’s Nest frame shop in Bourbon, and Harman Restaurants (Subway and Bourbon Street Pizza).
The Christmas baskets and toys were distributed Saturday morning, Dec. 21. A few families picked their basket up at the headquarters — Bourbon First United Methodist Church — because they were not going to be at home that day or wanted to maintain the myth of Santa Claus with their young children. Most baskets, however, were delivered around the area to the homes of the families.
Leading the TCP this year are Director Rev. Stormy Scherer-Berry, pastor of the First UMC, and Assistant Directors Paula Meredith from the United Pentecostal Church and Julie Clemens from the First UMC. Groups such as the Triton cheerleaders worked at the food sorting operation, as well as individuals of all ages.
Children and youth were not allowed to accompany the distribution teams for fear of running into a classmate from school.
The 38 volunteers of the TCP are striving to make Christmas a time of joy for all — especially families down on their luck, who really need the Christmas spirit most of all.

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