Over the holidays, Calhoun’s Voluntary Action Center was busy collecting cans, delivering presents and spreading Christmas cheer. While Executive Director Stacy Long said it was a jam-packed couple of months, she said it was well worth it.

Their season started off in November with their annual Fired Up Food Drive, which takes place at both Calhoun City Schools and Gordon County Schools. This yearly event provides around 80-85 percent of food donations for the VAC, according to Long.

This year, local schools collected non-perishable donations during the week of Nov. 12-16 in order to benefit the VAC’s hunger programs.

Long said that the VAC serves hot meals Mondays through Fridays and thanks to donations, they were able to provide 25,034 meals in 2017. She said they also provide nutritional support through the food pantry and in 2017 the VAC was able to help 9,986 individuals through the pantry.

“This year we had 24,835 non-perishable items donated,” Long said of the food drive. “We do a competition inside each school system and this year Calhoun Elementary School won for the city and Sonoraville Elementary School for the county.”

CES brought in the most food items at 3,367, and SES was right behind them with 2,899. The director said the food drive was a huge success this year.

Besides the food drive, Long also encourages those interested in helping to donate meal cards, another helpful way to provide nutrition to at-risk families and individuals.

“Our five-year plan, and we hope it doesn’t take us five years to get to this point, but we want to offer both lunch and dinner on a daily basis, Monday through Friday,” said Long, explaining how every donation helps someone in need.

The second annual Christmas dinner facilitated by the Calhoun High School baseball team on Dec. 18 was also a huge success for the VAC, serving almost 100 people, according to Long.

But the biggest VAC project this holiday season was by far the Christmas program, which delivers gifts and food to needy families, children and seniors. In 2018, Long said 1,976 individuals in Gordon County received a Christmas box, including 114 seniors and 850 children and their parents.

Families that applied to participate in the Christmas program back in October consisted of low-income families who had to complete a class with the VAC. Some of the classes offered covered topics ranging from budgeting, domestic violence awareness, parenting skills, job skills, fire safety, proper nutrition and English classes for Spanish speakers.

“We had a total of 283 who attended classes from September to November and we had 22 attend who weren’t even a part of the Christmas program,” Long said.

Once the parents have taken at least one class, they can apply their family for the program, at which point the VAC works to try to get sponsors to “adopt” families and children.

“We had all of our families taken care of except for 75 children and a few who came in last minute,” Long said. “We used money that’s been donated to buy gifts for those kids.”

As a part of the program, every child gets at least one outfit and at least one or two non-clothing items. In addition, all the families get a meal box and a $10 gift certificate to Wholesale Food Outlet. Yet giving these families a special Christmas is not the only way the VAC reaches out to people during December.

Long said they also put together Christmas boxes and meal boxes for senior citizens, boxes which contain different gifts than those given to families and children. Long credited a few local organizations for helping with that holiday project in 2018.

“First Methodist pays for the seniors’ boxes and the Young Professionals Group with the Chamber of Commerce collects different gifts and puts together the boxes to deliver to the seniors,” Long said. “And this year, we also had some help from Rock Bridge Church take care of a few extra seniors who didn’t get on our initial list.”

All in all, Long said the VAC’s Christmas season went very smoothly. She even said the thrift store made more money in the last year than it ever has, and on behalf of the staff, she wanted to thank everyone who had helped out with their holiday programs and drives.

In further news, the VAC’s signature fundraiser, their fifth annual Murder Mystery Event, is coming up in March, which is a comedy-centered play written by a volunteer or VAC staff member. Long will be writing this year’s play.

Dinner is provided, as well as raffle drawings, a silent auction and opportunities for participants to win a cash prize if they guess who the killer is. Additional details will be released closer to the date of the event.