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The early-morning hour Saturday didn’t stop young shoppers at Walmart from enthusiastically making rounds at the store.
Operation REACH once again took selected youth shopping last weekend, with busloads of young people spilling out at the Rockwood store around 6 a.m. to buy gifts for their families. Later they headed to Rockwood High School and Rockwood Middle School to wrap them.
“She’ll love it,” chimed one little girl who, with help from others, picked out a set of small “girly” gifts for her and her sister with some of her Operation REACH funds.
“I know Saturday was such a blessed thing,” said Jane Ollis, REACH president. “Everything went smoothly, and there were a lot of happy kids out there,”
Children ecstatically shopped, as carefully picking out presents for parents and their siblings as they were for themselves.
“They don’t want to shop for themselves. A lot of people get food. How responsible is that?” Ollis said. “These kids were buying exactly what they needed — toothpaste, toothbrushes, crackers, bread. There were some little smart shoppers Saturday.”
Donations were down for this year’s event, which has been a charitable staple in Roane County for many years.
“We ended up raising $115,400. We did not meet our goal of $135,000,” Ollis said.
“I think a lot of it has to do with the economy. I think a lot of it has to do with the election year and the uncertainty of the coming year,” Ollis said.
Ollis said many donated, but not at the amount they had previously.
REACH cut the amount of funds per child to $200 this year from the last year’s $225.
This year a record 585 children were turned in to participate, but about 20 percent were a no-shows, mostly in the Saturday morning crowd of kindergarten through fifth grade. Older children shop on Fridays.
Ollis said she was told some children are out because of an early outbreak of the flu.
The money for those who didn’t attend will go toward next year’s goal for REACH.
“I’m hoping maybe (we’ll reach) $135,000 next year. Maybe start a little bit earlier. It is hard to reach that much money in two to three months,” Ollis said.
“This is getting to be such a big program we are going to have to do things throughout the year fundraising,” she added.