By Tim Preston - CNHI News Service
Dec. 25, 2013 — Grahn — Christmas is truly a time of giving, and receiving in the rural community of Grahn in Carter County, where the old schoolhouse remains a hub of activity for the community.
Juggling the demands of a spirited 4-year-old and a slightly fussy 4-month-old grandson, Grahn Community Center Director Starlene Harris said dozens of volunteers have been working hard to prepare for today’s annual Grahn “Christmas Store” distribution.
“They’ve been here working for the past two weeks setting up these stores. We have a store full of toys. We have a shoe store and a store with personal hygiene things,” Harris said, explaining a volunteer “shopper” accompanies parents to each of the stores within the old school, while others are ready to help wrap and carry packages.
Out of necessity, the community center does a lot with a little, Harris said, explaining supporters seem to have a way of knowing how to provide precisely what is needed at the right time. Gearing up for today’s distribution, for example, she said one man took a grocery list to Grayson and paid for everything needed to make a big breakfast for the 62 volunteers, while another provided 25 bags of potatoes and another delivered loads of toilet paper and paper towels.
Neighboring Kirk Memorial Baptist Church provided bags of flour and nearby Grahn Hill Free Will Baptist Church purchased sugar, with Three Pines Free Will Baptist taking up a love offering that gave enough funds to pay for meats, additional canned goods, peanut butter and bread. Two schools in northern Ohio provide the toys and shoes distributed in Grahn each holiday season, she added, noting additional support from a group near Columbus, as well as the owner of Louisville Fire Brick, which once operated a brick plant in the rural community.
Harris said young children are not allowed inside the old school while parents are picking out things like toys, shoes and clothes, explaining organizers like the idea of helping parents bring a little bit of surprise and Santa Claus into their homes at Christmas. With a system in place to provide Christmas packages according to the number of children in each family, Harris said there is little reason for people to show up early.
“The toys and shoes are a different matter because they do get their pick. So, if there is only one bicycle in the toy store, it goes to whoever gets there first,” she said.
The toy store, which fills the old school gymnasium, is packed with everything from a big batch of Barbie dolls, and a few Kens, to electronic drums, Transformers, Thomas the Train, remote control cars and trucks, educational toys, backpacks, sports playsets to improve kicking and throwing skills, at least one electronic keyboard/synthesizer and an “Executive Foosball” table.
“And, this year we have Beanie Babies by the hundreds,” said Gloria Bunting, of the founding members of the board which sustained the effort to buy the old school and convert it into a community center. Surveying this year’s toys, Bunting found herself entertained by the swatch of synthetic hair atop one particular Ken doll, holding the figure up for her fellow volunteers to see.
Harris said the “Christmas Store” distribution has been going on for at least 16 years, explaining the community center was essentially born when the community’s elementary school was consolidated with nearby schools in Olive Hill.
“Until that time, we could use the school for our needs. When they took it away, there was no place to serve as the hub of the community or to have a benefit if we needed to help someone,” she said, explaining the building was later sold at public auction, and later bought back by the community “with every window broken out, holes in the roof and water standing on the gym floor.” Supporters began writing grant applications and seeking donations, she said.
“It never failed. Every time there was a need, that need was met,” she said, later adding the old school “is 97 percent renovated now.”
With educational outreach as one of the center’s priorities, Harris said the old school now serves many purposes in the community ranging from family literacy camps to parenting skills classes, music and art programs, job skills and Internet access for those with no computer at home. With a hint of pride, she notes there has never been a dropout from their family literacy program. The center’s resources also serve Grahn and surrounding communities as an emergency outreach center, with food and clothing for families disrupted by everything from fires to domestic disputes or unexpected financial hardships.
“We’ve had small numbers, but big successes,” she said, explaining the center also provides a place and purpose for otherwise isolated senior volunteers who tell her they get great rewards from their service there.
“It’s also people who need help with loneliness ... just talking to other people,” Harris said.
For more information about ongoing efforts at the Grahn Community Center, at 7380 Aden Road, call (606) 286-0177 or 316-7508. Contributions can be sent to Grahn Community Center, P.O. Box 138, Grahn KY 41142.
TIM PRESTON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.