Pictured above from left to right, Etowah Sheriff’s Charities Secretary and Treasurer Kelley McGinnis stands with volunteer Madison Whisenant after packaging all the Christmas gifts for deserving families throughout Etowah County.
By Katie Bohannon, News Editor
The Etowah County Sheriff’s Office is giving the gift of hope this holiday season.
Through Operation Christmas Cheer, Etowah Sheriff’s Charities ensures that children countywide receive a magical Christmas, wrapping joy and encouraging generosity with each beloved present.
Developed in 2012 under the previous administration, Operation Christmas Cheer assists Etowah County Sheriff’s Office employees with providing economically disadvantaged children with presents and needed items during Christmastime.
“I can’t explain how much [Operation Christmas Cheer] means to me,” said Etowah County Sheriff Jonathon Horton. “Being in the funeral business, service and law enforcement, serving my whole career has never been money [driven]. But to be able to lay down at night and know I did something to help – that’s important to me; the payment of self-gratitude. I don’t like saying ‘I,’ because it’s ‘us.’ It just means a lot to me.”
Etowah Sheriff’s Charities’ positive influence is not possible without the dedicated individuals who commit themselves to serving their community each day. The ESC’s 2020 Board of Directors includes President Barry Smith, Vice President Heath Yates, Secretary/Treasurer Kelley McGinnis and members at large Josh Morgan and Keba Excford. Horton commended each of the members who contributed to Operation Christmas Cheer, emphasizing that all involved are genuine givers at heart.
“I’m a big believer in what you do secretly will be rewarded openly,” said Horton. “Kelley McGinnis truly shines in this. She really puts her heart into this, and you can see it. That’s what I’m most proud of.”
As an integral role in Operation Christmas Cheer, McGinnis understands the importance of ensuring that children throughout the community feel loved and appreciated. She reaches out to school counselors and sends them an application regarding potential children in need in their specific school. After McGinnis receives the submitted applications, she and other ESC members contact the families to discover more information about all children in the home to safeguard that every family member is provided for, rather than just one child.
The ESC dedicates two full weeks of shopping to check off each item on their lists, then packages the gifts for pickup. All items are purchased locally as the ESC forming strong partnerships with likeminded businesses that share its passion for helping others. McGinnis noted that both Old Navy and Shoe Carnival provide the ESC with endless discounts, emphasizing that while it is incredible how much the ESC buys from them, it is equally as astounding how much money the ESC saves. Just as all proceeds raised pour into providing for children countywide, all money spent surges back into the community through the ESC’s commitment to supporting local businesses.
Although the ESC strives to manifest every child’s wish under his or her tree, the gifts consist of more than toys. Through Operation Christmas Cheer, each child receives a jacket, two outfits, a pair of pajamas, socks, underwear, shoes, hygiene products and a gift certificate for groceries to accompany a stocking full of goodies. This year, the program provided nearly 80 children with an extraordinary Christmas.
“Whenever the parents come and pick up the stuff, to see the joy on their faces to be able to have their kids experience Christmas is more than anybody could ask for,” said McGinnis. “It’s worth every minute of stress that we put into the charity throughout the year! We are grateful that we get to do this and continue to bring joy throughout Etowah County.”
Various fundraisers throughout the year contribute to the almost annual $20,000 dedicated to children via Operation Christmas Cheer. The ESC hosts a golf tournament, Mocs on the Rocks trail run, No Shave November and Thanksgiving Meat Sales to raise proceeds for the program. In 2020, Joe Horton, Hank Nelson and other volunteers achieved the highest response for the Thanksgiving Meat Sales fundraiser than ever before, selling and cooking 329 pieces of meat.
Operation Christmas Cheer is more than an annual charity. The program’s mission fosters the lifelong gift of hope, planting a seed of kindness in the hearts of families throughout the county and nurturing positive growth in the future. While children excitedly receive their desired gifts on Christmas morning, the message they gain emerges as a symbol of generosity and thoughtfulness that they will treasure always. Through Operation Christmas Cheer, Etowah Sheriff’s Charities shows families countywide that their community cares for them. The program encourages the remembrance of wonderful childhood experiences when youth develop into adulthood, transforming into responsible, productive, law-abiding citizens who understand the true meaning of giving.
“[I hope that families know] that the sheriff’s office supports them,” said McGinnis. “We’re behind them, and we want to see them with a bright future.”