DARKE COUNTY — Alishia Clark Funk has finished conducting her fifth Christmas season providing gifts for children via the Operation Christmas Cheer-Darke County project, which she founded in 2011.
And, she is happy with this year’s turnout. According to her, 271 Darke County children will be receiving these gifts provided by many generous givers and organizations.
“It will be a beautiful Christmas for all of them,” she said. “We have some amazing givers in Darke County. There are a lot of caring people around here.”
She calls those who donated to the cause as well as those who helped with the project her elves. She requires all her elves to focus on the needs of the children.
“They took this project so serious,” Funk said. “And every year I can tell whose hearts love it. Back in the beginning, I delivered the gifts. Now, this project takes so much of m time. God is working through me. He took over.”
Funk, Dickey and Kenworthy have a lot of people to thank for making this year’s drive a huge success.
“Thank you to Greenville Girls Softball Association and Lady Wave Softball for providing four 2016 softball fees certificates and Lady Wave Softball gear to some lucky kids on our list,” Funk said. “Possibly the kindest thank you I’ve ever received……personal mission accomplished!
She went on, “We would like to say a huge thank-you to Grace Resurrection Community Center (GRCC). They allow us free access to their building for four days. We keep growing and growing and have to change workshop locations. They have been so amazing offering us a huge space that we can make work for us. Our program couldn’t do what we do without their help! Ever seen 250-plus kids Christmas in bags in one space? This just doesn’t even do it justice.”
On pickup day, she said her team of three put in tons of work.
“This is the day when it exchanges hands and we exhale,” she said. “The tears of joy we are seeing remind me why we keep on doing this. I can’t put into words how emotional that day is. We had some elves on their feet with us for nine-plus hours. One elf, in particular, did the full 14 with us. Shout out to Heather Lyons Werner. We asked her to step up as a fourth person to take on a huge role in the workshop process. She is doing amazing. We can’t thank her enough.”
Funk indicated that Versailles Winery was at GRCC home-cooking meals for every family on the list.
“I love this group,” posted Dickey on Facebook. “We had to hold back this part of this year’s blessing until the last minutes but that shouldn’t underscore what an amazing act they pulled off! What is incredible is the layers that this program has. The Winery stepped up in a huge way and their post shows how many more people contributed to what they did. People contribute to people who contribute and it just goes on and on. I love how far this reaches and what an amazing community we have!”
Through this project, children’s wishes do come true. Funk said Hartzell Veterinary learned that one child asked for a job with a veterinarian, so they provided a job shadow for that child. Greenville FFA donated 10 bicycles and Dave Knapp Ford provided helmets for those bikes.
At the beginning of the season, Funk said Operation Christmas Cheer was looking to help 225 and obviously exceeded that. However, they still had to turn away 30 or 40 children, which they regretted.
She believes the low amount of givers this year was due to those who are on their own helping out others, and she is okay with that.
“I take 150 children right off the bat and I keep taking them in as help keeps coming,” Funk explained. “With Dave Knapp’s help, we could do 40 more children. We were at about 225 then Dave Knapp stepped in and I felt comfortable to put clothing items up on the list.”
In 2011, 22 Darke County children were helped. In 2012, 62 children were helped. In 2013, 186 children were helped. In 2014, 287 children were helped.
Operation Christmas Cheer is supported by local citizens, former citizens and local businesses. This project is 100 percent dependent on donations.
Stepping up this year in big ways either as employee groups or the actual businesses themselves were Dave Knapp Ford Lincoln, Greenville Federal Bank, The Winery of Versailles, Family Health, the Heidenreich family, Roots Hair Salon, Meckes & Associates, State of the Heart Hospice, Treaty City Industries, JT’S Brew & Grill, Shaffer Maintenance, Baughn Distributing, SRT Trucking, and Greenville Girls Softball Association,” said the spokesperson “Their generous donations along with Buckeye Buckaroos 4-H Club, Horse and Rider 4-H Club, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, and more than 300 individual elves.
Wrapping gifts were all kinds of people…those providing the gifts, families of the children receiving the gifts, the elves, those who could not afford gifts but could help out in other ways and the Med-Tech program at Greenville High School.
Funk said before this year’s project began, various organizations, including Toys for Tykes, Gateway and EUM’s program got together to do cross-referencing.
“Toys for Tots pulling out this year was hard,” she said.
Funk started Operation Christmas Cheer from a personal Facebook post in 2011 wanting to help one family in need with their Christmas.
“I have two older stepdaughters and have legal custody of two younger children,” Funk said. “The older two were willing to get rid of their stuff to take care of a family. They were in high school at the time. “
It was done out of Funk’s home for two years, then moved to the Moose Lodge after it had gotten bigger, then Greenville Softball Diamonds and now to GRCC.
She said Dickey got involved with her early on.
“Tiffany was a giver my second year and took a kid off the list to help,” Funk said. “She became a drop-off point the third year at her father’s business. Kathy was a giver that year and in the third year, we brought her on board. Without them I could not do this.”
Funk said like always she hears a lot of sad stories.
“I was a hugger this year,” she said. “And, I cried. Givers and receives became my family.”
She said people responded from everywhere….California, Florida, Colorado, Michigan, Tennessee and Pennsylvania after seeing it on Facebook.
“Hands down this was my favorite year,” she said. “More kids are now coming to ask us for help. My goal is not to say no in the future. I do it because I care about kids. I couldn’t have children. I’m infertile. I wanted my own baby but never had any. I’m never sad at Christmas anymore. I was blessed with a husband who support all my crazy ideas.”
She concluded, “Darke County is an amazing place to live. So many people give to the program anonymously. Some ask not to be identified. They are just good loving people give blindly.”
Linda Moody may be reached at 937-569-4315. Follow her on Facebook and join the conversation and get updates on Facebook by searching Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to dailyadvocate.com.