Share-A-Christmas has humble roots in a caring community

Share-A-Christmas has humble roots in a caring community

Image Credit: Dave Mast

It has been 34 years since a group of four local men sat down and hashed out a plan to touch the lives of Holmes County families in need at Christmastime.

More than three decades later, Holmes County Share-A-Christmas continues to be the Christmas star atop the Holmes County tree of giving, not just for Christmas, but year round.

The year was 1988, and the quartet of Bill Baker, Mike Taylor, John Thern and Sam Steimel were focusing on an idea that was put in place by Baker the year prior.

SAC has now become a beacon of hope and love for many families in the county, and that isn’t just the ones who receive the toys, gifts, clothing vouchers and food.

“Share-A-Christmas is something that has united our county for a common purpose,” Taylor said. “It has drawn people together from all over the county and is something that grew out of a very humble beginning.”

The beginning: wards of the state

When Baker owned Multi Products, he had a huge Christmas party for his employees and their families. In 1987 he felt they had done that enough and decided to invite all the wards of the court, which he said he thought might be 15 but turned out to be over 40.

They rented the West Holmes Middle School and the cafeteria. The employees dressed up in elf costumes and greeted the youngsters, with each child spending an evening with an employee.

“By the end of the night, none of us wanted the night to be over,” Baker said. “We got presents for them that were personal. All my employees could talk about the rest of the year was how fantastic that was.”

The following year Taylor found out about the event and wanted to investigate doing something larger.

“We said, ‘Let’s do some families in the community,’” Taylor said.

They were joined by Jon Thern and Sam Steimel, along with their wives Jan Baker and Cindy Taylor.

That started with eight families with gifts purchased specifically for the children.

It was a monumental success, and Baker said next year it was going to be 100 families.

They set about raising money, and the community invested immediately.

Not many years later, the number grew to upward of 300 families who were signing up to receive the blessing of Share-A-Christmas.

Hitting the airwaves

A few years after it began, WKLM Radio asked to join forces, wanting to take the word of SAC to the streets over the airwaves.

Baker said it was an ideal match because the radio allowed the rest of the county to become participants while he, Taylor and several others were hitting the big donors.

“Mark Lonsinger was instrumental in growing this, and at the time they were worried about this failing,” Taylor said.

One thing Taylor said that did was unite East and West Holmes. The other thing it did was allow everyone an opportunity to give.

“We had hit all of these big donors, but this brought people who wanted to give $5 or $10, and that opened ways to give that went beyond what we had dreamed,” Taylor said. “It worked exactly how we had envisioned.”

The little engine that could (and can)

A comparison can be drawn between Share-A-Christmas and an engine.

On its own, any individual engine part doesn’t have a lot of value, but once assembled, the engine provides an awesome driving force that pushes people forward at an amazing clip, with each part doing its share of the work.

SAC is much like that. Any single part of the SAC process on its own would not create anything sustainable, but within the confines of SAC, with each aspect of the organization doing its part, the engine moves forward at a clip that would amaze anyone outside of the county.

“The amazing part of that analogy is that it only took four or five years for all of it to come together to where all of these different leaders were taking on key roles and making it run smoothly,” Baker said. “Some of them we weren’t even looking for then. It was people coming to us and saying they wanted to help and here’s how they could.”

With each new partnership, each new piece of the engine, it started to rev higher, perform better and take SAC to a place none of those who created it ever thought it would go.

Taylor said like any successful business, Share-A-Christmas’ people began learning the organizational structure and started to prosper.

He said they would get through a season of giving, take a step back and explore ways they could improve. It saw them add various aspects such as a hats and gloves division or church groups bringing in specific foods or items.

“Everyone kind of creates their own tradition inside of their own portion of Share-A-Christmas, and that has been a big part of the success story,” Baker said. “They just take care of business.”

A monumental move

In the early years of SAC, the early December delivery day was geared toward having recipients drive to the former fairgrounds on the west side of Millersburg, where dozens of cars would line up, wait for their gifts and pull away.

With flooding an ongoing issue, SAC members were often forced to bring in truck trailers and store food and toys. Families receiving gifts were asked to pull into a quagmire and wait for large periods of time to receive their gifts.

Up stepped Baker, who made a major donation that saw the county build the very first structure at Harvest Ridge, the Baker Building. While it serves a multitude of purposes at the annual county fair, its initial purpose was to become a warehouse and staging center for Share-A-Christmas.

Suddenly, there was more room, safer space to store items and floor space that allowed SAC to build a system of squares that let them systematically and numerically place families’ presents and food into their own unique place in the order.

“The Baker Building gave us organizational prospects that we never had before,” Taylor said. “All of a sudden, things got a whole lot more organized and easier.”

“We knew we had so many volunteers who enjoyed delivering that it made sense for us to make the switch to delivering all of the gifts directly to homes,” Baker said. “That was a game-changer, and we didn’t have to worry about the facility.”

With Bob Porter tabbed to serve as SAC chairman, SAC had someone committed to overseeing each aspect.

Share-A-Christmas has now united many other organizations doing their own thing and united a county and community, giving the Christmas season a purpose that has helped thousands of families over the years.

It has taken on a life of its own because people want to help, which is the only way something this big can succeed. It has not only blessed families, but also has grown into a time of giving all year to senior citizens, veterans and children at school.

Taylor said SAC has grown simply from the spirit of giving, and Share-A-Christmas has capitalized on that sense of compassion and desire to help others, serving as a hub that has touched the lives of a large majority of people in Holmes County, whether as a recipient, a donor or a volunteer.