Grahn, Kentucky is almost 6 hours away from Chardon, Ohio, but the towns are forever connected in heart.
In 1994, a small group of Grahn’s hard-working community members got together and purchased an old school building, which would eventually become the Grahn School Community Center.
Centered in Appalachia, the community has great needs that the local social service agencies are not able to meet. With the support of local churches and outside donors, the center opened to help provide educational and emergency services to the surrounding counties. Around the same time, St. Mary School paired with the center to provide toys for nearly 100 families in need each year at Christmas.
New and gently used toys that were collected at St. Mary School through early December were delivered this week to a happy and grateful community.
School parent, Bob Williams loads up his own truck and donates his time to transport the toys each year. The locals there call him the “Toy Man” and welcome his visit with a community lunch for Williams and the other St. Mary School volunteer elves.
After delivery, St. Mary volunteers stay to help unpack and sort the toys in the gymnasium in preparation for selection day.
Grahn parents, without their children, are then invited in the Saturday before Christmas to shop. Each family is allotted 2 toys per child, if there are enough available.
The community center volunteers then help wrap the presents, and also send them home with new shoes, two weeks worth of groceries and toiletries; all donated from outside agencies.
Starlene Harris, director of the community center, said, “without the donations, we would have no way of providing this for our families in need and some families would just go without”.
Despite their great need, the people of Grahn and the community center continue to have a joyful Christmas spirit and hope for the New Year.
The Grahn School Community Center does not receive any tax funding or other forms of monetary support from the government. They are totally self-funded and depend on donations to keep the center open.
In fact, each year they need to close their doors for at least a month in the winter because they cannot afford to heat the building. This year they are in desperate need of a new roof as evidenced by the falling ceiling tiles around the building.
Harris said, “The Lord always finds a way to provide. One year, our director picked up the mail to find a bill that we did not have the means to cover and by the time she returned to the center, a donor had left a check for the exact amount without knowing of our need”.
Through the “Toys for Appalachia” program at St. Mary School, students and families have the ability to give to those who are truly in need. In return they receive the gift of knowing that their strong school community provides hope and happiness to others year after year. Although separated by many miles, the children of both Grahn and St. Mary School will be celebrating together on Christmas.