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Kiwanis Club brings Christmas to children

Members of the Erwin Kiwanis Club, along with a large group of volunteers, put smiles on the faces of more than 200 Unicoi County Children on Saturday, Dec. 5.
The annual Kiwanis Christmas Shopping Tour took place at the Unicoi Walmart with approximately 175 children from across the county having the opportunity to get an early start on the Christmas season with $100 supplied by the Erwin Kiwanis Club.
“This is a 50-year tradition here in Unicoi County,” Bill Gaines, chairman of the shopping tour, said on Saturday. “The Erwin Jaycee chapter started this up in 1965 and when they folded up, the Kiwanis Club took it over and have grown the project. We have over 100 volunteers out today to take the kids on the tour. We encourage the kids to buy clothes and shoes, but of course they buy toys, too.
“I just talked to one little boy who wanted to buy a bike; that’s all he wanted. That works for us, because that’s something these kids may never have.”
The tour has been a staple in the community since its inception, allowing children from the area whose families have fallen on tough times financially to purchase gifts.
“We’ll be spending around $23,400 today,” Gaines said, adding that the funds raised by the Kiwanis Club will also be assisting families affected by CSX Transportation’s closure of the Erwin Terminal.
“The money just isn’t for the shopping tour,” he added. “We have around 81 railroad families that we’ll be sending a $50 gift card to and we’re going to tell them that we understand and we care for them because their money from the company runs out on Dec. 23. If some of those families haven’t found a job yet, that’s when their money will run out. If they feel like they don’t need that money, we’re going to ask them to pass it along to another family that does.”
The Kiwanis Club will also be providing 50 $33 gift cards for the Head Start program in Unicoi County, Gaines said.
“We had a little bit of money on reserve from last year,” Gaines added about the monetary support from the community, “but, I say we’ll easily be able to cover the amount of money we’ll be using this year.”
One of the key contributors for the project was NN Ball and Roller, Gaines said. The company raised $7,400 for the Kiwanis Club projects with help from the Erwin and Johnson City offices, along with the employees.
“There are so many people to thank,” Gaines said. “Regina Harrell helps coordinate this project through the school system. We have officers from the city and county helping provide security. We have so many people making the effort to get out of bed this morning to be here, but at the end of the day, it is all about seeing the smiles on the children’s faces.”
Students from Unicoi County High School took part in the festivities, including junior Shaddon Peavyhouse, who volunteered for the first time at the shopping tour.
“It was a really fun experience,” he said. “Being able to reach out and help the kids was great. Being able to make them smile was amazing. I will definitely do something like this again.”
Walmart was flooded with different individuals from the area shopping with children. Whether it was the officers sharing a smile picking out a toy or Miss Johnson City Hannah Everhart shopping with girls, the event is something the county can be proud of, according to Gaines.
“It is an incredible tradition for Unicoi County,” he said. “And it is something Unicoi County can be proud of.”