LOGAN – The holidays are again upon us, and Integrated Services of Hocking County is gearing up for its annual Christmas present giveaway program.
Funding each year is provided through donations to M&M Diner in downtown Logan. The total money raised this year was $1,455, more than double the amount raised in 2020, during the pandemic.
From there, Integrated spreads the money among its many workers, who deal directly with struggling families across Hocking County. From there, workers will talk to parents, assess their level of need, and figure out what presents might be best for their children. Integrated also works directly with the kids; there’s a level of rapport between social workers and families that brings the program to life. Brittany Bayes, who works at Integrated, spoke about how meaningful it is to wake each year, and know that a child that you’ve gotten to know and care for personally is going to have a merry Christmas.
“We couldn’t do it without (Integrated), and they couldn’t without us,” said Michelle Bourne, owner of M&M. The program was inspired by her annual free turkey dinners, served the day before Thanksgiving. Though the dinner has always been on the house, those who stop in are often inclined to leave a donation. Early on, Bourne would choose a new charity every year to send the donations to. Previous recipients have included the local food bank, the Hocking Hills Inspire Shelter, and more. Bourne told The Logan Daily News the origins behind the program as it currently exists.
“It was near Christmas one year when I was at the Max (Bar & Grill) and ran into Tisha (Elick),” who works at Integrated and helps administer the free presents. At the time, Integrated did not have an official program to ensure children in need could celebrate Christmas. Elick was stressed about paying out of pocket to get presents to three children, all clients of hers. Earlier that day, Bourne had received an unusually large tip, a $100 bill from a random customer. She handed the bill to Elick, and soon after, the Christmas giveaway program began.
“We’re killing two birds with one stone, giving free meals away and also collecting to help kids have a Christmas,” Bourne said. “Everybody gets in a spot where they need help, and you can’t turn your back on anyone. That’s what community is all about.”
As she speaks of the program, Bourne’s enthusiasm is clear and admirable. She sat down in M&M with The Logan Daily News, and held back tears, expressing how much the kids’ joy means to her. Every year, the kids who receive presents through the program write her a handwritten letter, telling her what they received and giving their thanks. It is, to her, an expression of thanks to the whole community, the many people who voluntarily chip in their own money in the spirit of holiday charity.
Bayes spoke to how much Bourne’s work has meant to families and the social workers at Integrated.
“Especially during COVID, it’s amazing how much (Bourne) has helped,” she said. “Even then, when she and everyone else around the community was struggling financially, she still did everything in her power to make sure the Thanksgiving dinner happened, and that children still got to enjoy their Christmas.”
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