Students donate their time at the Johnson County Christmas Bureau

Sophomore Mikayla Murphy was volunteering at the Johnson County Christmas Bureau last year when a single dad walked in with four daughters clinging to his hip. All the man hoped for was for his daughters to have the best Christmas that they could. He poured his heart into caring for them, working two jobs in the effort to provide for his family. Unfortunately, he still fell short.

“Even though the man couldn’t afford much, he was still trying so hard for his family,” Murphy said. “That was probably the sweetest thing I had heard. It really gave me perspective of how great of a parent he was for his daughters and I admired him for it.”

The Johnson County Christmas Bureau (JCCB) is a non-profit organization devoted to providing low income residents of Johnson County with various items for the holiday season. Those items include groceries, personal care items, children’s clothing, coats, hats, gloves, scarves, toys, adult and teen gifts and books. The JCCB holds an annual holiday shop from Dec. 6-14 in which people “shop” for these items. The  clients are asked to give a $3 donation to the holiday shop if they can afford it.

Southwest Students have come together to donate their time to this organization. Clubs like Spanish National Honors Society (SNHS) and Student Council (StuCo) have volunteered as a group to help out. Aside from clubs, various students have organized individual groups to help as much as they could.

Junior Justin Hicklin started volunteering for the JCCB his freshman year with StuCo and has continued to serve with StuCo and on his own.

“It definitely gives me a chance to realize how lucky I am and makes me realize that people are always attempting to overcome their struggles, and we should do our best to help them out,” Hicklin said. “I felt happy that I could change someone’s life by donating a couple of hours of my time. I was really thankful for the opportunity.”

The JCCB is a non-profit organization, so it runs solely on volunteers. The JCCB holiday shop relies on 3,000 volunteers each year. These volunteers help set up, lead families around to shop and take down once it’s all over.

“I can’t even begin to thank the students and what they do for us,” JCCB Executive Director Barb Mcneile said. “They help us with donation drives and volunteer during the holiday shop. Without high school students, we wouldn’t have any groceries to give to our clients because we get all of our groceries from student food drives. We really love the kids that come in and give their time.” Students provide manpower for the JCCB, in which the organization relies on for its success.

Last year, the JCCB provided 3,461 families — 12,965 individuals — with items for the holidays. A family of four typically receives over $300 worth of goods, which includes a holiday present for each family member. Holiday presents offer gifts for a variety of ages with different selections such as adult books or children’s toys. In 2013, the JCCB expects to serve 3,949 families and 13,845 individuals.

“The organization does so much for Johnson County to make sure everyone has a good holiday,” Hicklin said. “Everyone there is always so happy, which makes it really fun. I’m really glad to be a part of it.”

Not only does the organization benefit from the volunteers, but the volunteers gain perspective after donating their time.

“It [volunteering] really made me more grateful for what I have and it helps remind you that poverty happens even in Johnson County,” Senior Jack Ayres said. “Seeing that is a great reminder to keep volunteering and helping out the most you can.”

The unique thing about the JCCB is how much the volunteers interact with the clients who are benefiting from the organization. Each family is taken around by one volunteer in the holiday shop to pick out its items. This interaction allows volunteers to witness the impact that they truly are making.

“It means the world to you when the people you’re helping thank you or give you a smile, and you can really see how much they appreciate what little they’re given,” Murphy said. “It made me feel really good to know that I was helping these people get back on their feet.”

The interaction between clients and volunteers allows the families to display their stories. It gives volunteers an insight on another view of Johnson County.

“I think that this is the most rewarding volunteer job because you get to see how you’re making an impact and work with the clients one on one,” Mcneile said. “You get to see how appreciative they are, and most people are so humble and appreciative. It’s so rewarding to see their faces and know that they’re having a brighter holiday season because of it.”

Mcneile shared her most memorable story from her clients in which a lady came in with her small daughter. The JCCB asks for a $3 donation from the clients to shop if they can afford it, and the woman had forgotten to bring money with her. As the lady went to leave to find an ATM, Mcneile assured her that she could still shop without the donation. The lady was very grateful that she didn’t have to trek to find an ATM.

She said she had come straight to the holiday shop from a chemotherapy appointment for her daughter. The family had to move from Arizona back to Johnson County because of her daughter’s cancer.

“That moment really touched me; you don’t really expect something like that to happen and here these people were right in front of me sharing their story,” Mcneile said. “Other people have come into the holiday shop with piggy banks and nickels trying so hard to pay the $3 donation in order to give back to the holiday shop.”

Although the JCCB is aimed at providing to those financially struggling in Johnson County, Southwest students have benefited from the program.. Students have been give the opportunity to make a difference in their community, which to them is a reward in its own.

“When you leave a place like that filled with so many volunteers working to help others, it makes you feel genuine and want to give back the most you can,” Murphy said. “It really made me think about how blessed we are and how our parents are there for us to provide even the simplest of needs.”