Seeing Christmas decorations in stores well before Halloween is still a burr under my saddle.
It is the commercialism of that holiday season creeping earlier and earlier into our wallets that gets on my nerves. Plus, I'm not real fond of having a religious holiday meshed with secular ones.
So, I have to try harder and earlier each year to focus on what I believe Christmas is all about.
This year, the Christian Appalachian Project is helping me do just that.
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CAP is an interdenominational, non-profit organization that works with families, seniors and the disabled living in the Appalachian region of Kentucky and other states. CAP was officially founded in 1964 by Monsignor Ralph W. Beiting, who died last year at age 88. It is one of the largest charities in this state, operating programs that provide food and clothing, summer camps for kids, home repairs and reconstruction and spouse abuse shelters.
"You couldn't just tell some man to pray and have faith when he didn't have a place to sleep or a bucket of coal to burn to keep his family warm," Beiting said in 1985. "You had to do more."
I visited the Mount Vernon offices last week and met Jenny King, coordinator of CAP's Family Advocacy program, who said the services provided depend on the needs of each of the 30 counties served.
"Our goal is to fill in the gaps," she said. "We have pulled out of some counties and added services in other counties that need assistance."
Liz Phelps, manager at Family Advocacy and at Camp Andrew Jackson, said the agency was once considered the only place families could seek help.
"There are a lot more agencies and services that have come in now," she said. "We are better at partnering. We were pioneers for many years in developing programs. We evolved to meet the needs and work together better."
And they have changed how some programs are run. Which brings me to how CAP is helping to remove that burr.
For years, CAP has had a Christmas Basket Program in which referred families submitted clothing sizes and wish lists that were filled by donors from nearly every state.
"We found we were serving the same families year after year," King said. "They were used to getting it. We were creating dependency. That is something we strive not to do."
So this year, single parent families, grandparents who are guardians of their grandchildren, and families who experienced a serious financial blow caused by a medical or housing crisis, will still have their wish lists filled by sponsors. Those are considered families of greatest need and King estimated about 350 people will fall in that category.
Other low-income families that are referred by schools, and social service agencies — the two-parent working poor who cannot eke out enough extra money for gifts or those who have been in the program five years or more — will be able to shop free of charge for their own gifts in a Christmas store. King said about 200 people will be selecting items.
There will be four stores in Eastern Kentucky serving several counties and they all need to be stocked.
We all know that historically parts of Appalachia, particularly some areas in Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia, have a poverty rate that is double that of the national average.
So, the families who will be shopping at the stores need more than toys for young children. They will be looking for household items such as sheets, towels and small appliances, as well as gifts for men, teens and seniors.
"Obesity is huge here in Eastern Kentucky," Phelps said. "We need husky sizes for boys and girls, and plus sizes for the elderly. We are big people in Eastern Kentucky."
All donated items, which should be less than $25, need to be brand new and unwrapped. The deadline is Dec. 1. Donations can be dropped off in Lexington, Mount Vernon or Hagerhill, Ky., or you can simply send a check.
Now, instead of fuming about the commercialization of Christmas, I'll just look upon the early display of decorations as my reminder to bring joy to a family in need.
These items are needed for the Christian Appalachian Project's Christmas Basket Stores:
Clothing and shoes: All sizes and genders, especially plus sizes.
Boys/girls: Toys and games for all ages; no stuffed animals; DVDs, books, art and school supplies.
Teen girls: Purses, makeup, perfume, nail polish and jewelry. CDs and DVDs.
Teen boys: Sports, fishing and hunting items. CDs and DVDs.
Women: Bath and body items and jewelry.
Men: Hand tools; automobile items; fishing and hunting items; wallets and watches.
Household items: Linens; kitchen items such as can openers, coffee makers, pots and pans, and toasters; and smoke detectors.
Other: Diapers and wipes; cleaning and laundry supplies; personal care items.
Drop off or mail items to these three locations:
Christian Appalachian Project, Christmas Basket Program
■ 2610 Palumbo Dr., Lexington, Ky. 40509
■ 3125 Richmond St., Mount Vernon, Ky. 40456
■ 6474 South Ky. 321, Hagerhill, Ky. 41222
Checks can be mailed to Christian Appalachian Project, Christmas Basket Program, P.O. Box 55911, Lexington, Ky. 40555.