Organizers of annual holiday campaign have high goals

GREENFIELD — Candace Trout is thinking about Christmas.

It might seem early for most folks, but Trout knows planning well ahead of the holiday is the best way to be ready to help those who need it most.

Trout, a research scientist at Elanco Animal Health, has served as the committee chairman for Clothe a Child, Feed A Family, for nearly 20 years. The annual campaign, entering its 44th year, is a partnership between Elanco and the Children’s Bureau, providing clothes, food, Christmas gifts and more to families in need in Hancock County. Trout and the seven-member committee for CACFAF are starting their fundraising early in an effort to bring in $7,000 toward helping families this holiday season, planning a hanging basket and garden bed plant sale this spring, a mums sale in the fall, and a number of other small fundraisers aimed at Elanco employees throughout the year.

Since 1974, the program has raised more than $135,000 and helped nearly 800 children, said senior assistant April D. Smith in an email to the Daily Reporter. The goals for 2018 are to raise at least $7,000, clothe 33 children and feed 12 families, according to a news release.

In the last 40 years, the annual campaign has become a well-oiled machine, Trout said. The Hancock County families served every year are recommended by the Children’s Bureau, a United Way-affiliated nonprofit organization based in Indianapolis providing services to keep families together and help children succeed. The Children’s Bureau works to empower families with professional support and community resources to eliminate issues that lead to entry into the child welfare system, according to the website.

Once the families are selected, the group arranges for the children to go out to eat — last year, at Donato’s Pizza — and then visit Kohl’s with a shopper volunteer to pick out new clothes and shoes. The group also purchases and wraps presents for the kids, which are delivered shortly before Christmas, Trout said. All told, the campaign spends between $185 and $250 per child, depending on the child’s age.

The effort takes the work of about 50 volunteers each year, but the committee has no trouble getting Elanco employees to take part, Trout said.

“Once you start, you never leave,” she said. “People may donate their time or money toward this program, and when they get to see that one-on-one personal impact, that’s what’s very special about it.”

Misty Fuller, liaison for the Children’s Bureau’s child safety program in Hancock County, said the bureau often works to connect its most-in-need families with the program.

“For people who are struggling the most, I feel like getting into that program is the difference between having and not having a Christmas,” she said. “That program puts me in the Christmas spirit. It’s really what Christmas is about.”

One Elanco employee has fallen into a special role for the annual campaign. Brenda Wilkinson, who has been involved with the committee on and off since 1988, takes all the Kohl’s cash earned during the clothes-shopping night and goes back to the store to purchase linens — towels, sheets or blankets, whatever is needed — for the recipient families.

“It’s an amazing experience, to actually take the children shopping for the clothes they get to purchase,” she said. “To see them so excited to get new things, to have the joy of picking out their own things, it touches our hearts.”

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Rorye Hatcher is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at ​317-477-3211 or rhatcher@greenfieldreporter.com.