The Stoddard County Gospel Mission saw perhaps it greatest challenges ever during the weeks that led up to its busiest time of year -- the Christmas season.
"We clearly did not have the resources to provide for all of the families who were in need of Christmas baskets in December," explained Mission Director Kim Slavings this week.
"Because of changes in the system, we're receiving just a portion of what we received at the Mission a couple of years ago," she said. "And we are much more dependent upon donations from within the community. We worry every holiday season that we won't have enough to supply our needs, and this year we had some real concerns. We just did not have enough food, and frankly, we didn't know how we were going to take care of our families."
And so, word went out into the community in early November that the Mission was in dire need of canned food and non-perishable food items. It wasn't long before church groups, banks, individuals, Scouts, businesses and local schools stepped up to the plate and began organized efforts to help stock the food pantry's shelves.
"A couple weeks before Christmas, we had the largest single delivery of canned goods that we've ever had at the Mission," Slavings said. "Through a Stuff a Bus project headed up by Dexter High School Counselor Judy Patterson, over 7,000 cans of food were delivered by Santa himself. We've never seen anything like this kind of response."
"That was an awesome day, and we saw so many generous outpourings of this kind. Every single one of them and every single can of food was so much appreciated."
An effort similar to the Stuff a Bus project was also put into action by Williams Moving Co., which sponsored a Stuff a Moving Van campaign. That highly successful project also gained popularity, and as a result, thousands of canned food items appeared at the Mission.
Church groups sponsored canned food drives and challenged other area churches to do the same. And many did. Deliveries came by the trunk and truck loads.
Tyson Foods came through with their annual donation of poultry -- 1,500 chickens valued at $5,100. And with this year's delivery came 4,100 pounds of canned food items to boost the Mission's food pantry. Employees at NewWave Communications supplied Christmas toys for area children.
"Modern Woodman of America youngsters positioned themselves at Bloomfield's Town & Country for an hour one day and received a whole van load of canned goods just by asking customers for a donations as they went in the store," said Slavings, "and Dexter FBLA students brought a whole van load of just macaroni and cheese."
Students Chelsey and Storm Massey once again donated a whole hog, and The Meat Shop donated the processing.
"In many instances, school aged children accompanied their parents in delivering the food," explained Slavings, "and we're always glad to see that so that children realize that not everyone has it as good as they do. Seeing first hand what it means to help in this effort is a great lesson for our children."
When it came time to pack and distribute this year's Christmas baskets to nearly 2,000 Stoddard County residents, there was amply food to fill the bill.
"We were absolutely overwhelmed with the support of our community," Slavings said of this year's efforts. "It just never ceases to amaze us how people will open up their hearts to this Mission to feed the hungry. We, and the families who benefited from all of the generosity, are truly thankful."
The public is reminded that the need at the Stoddard County Rescue Mission is an ongoing one. They service about 1,200 families each month throughout the year in need of food for their families.
"So, these efforts are appreciated all year long," said Slavings. "We have a new year on the horizon, and we hope that we'll have just as positive a response. We extend a huge thanks to everyone who helped make 2011 a memorable one at the Mission, and we look forward to continually serving the needs in Stoddard County in the coming year."