Christmas Happiness: It started with a plea for help

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 22, 2015

By Elizabeth Cook

If you ever question whether one person can make a difference, consider Spencer Murphy.

Or should it be Lucille Donnelly?

You see, in 1952 Donnelly, head of what was then called the Welfare Department, went to see the editor of the Salisbury Post. His name was Spencer Murphy.

There were children in Rowan County for whom Christmas would be no different than any other day, Donnelly told Murphy. Their families could not afford to put presents under a tree. Her story triggered something in Murphy, and the result was an editorial headlined, “Help!”

In the editorial, Murphy announced that the Salisbury Post would start Christmas Happiness, a fund to help children during the holidays. The Post would accept donations from readers and then give the money to the Welfare Department to channel to families in need. The first year, Christmas Happiness collected about $1,800.

Local generosity grew, year by year, and Christmas Happiness became a Rowan County tradition. Christmas Happiness collected more than $54,000 in 2014. Since the fund’s beginning in 1952, Post readers who give to Christmas Happiness have helped thousands of children wake up to a gift of some kind on Christmas morning.

And it all started with one person. Or is it two? Lucille Donnelly and Spencer Murphy both made a huge difference through Christmas Happiness — and throughout their careers.

Starting today, the Post kicks off Christmas Happiness 2015 with a $1,000 donation and asks readers to give if they can. Families who need help have already started applying; even in the best of times, there has always been need in the community.

A few years ago, the Salvation Army of Rowan County agreed to take over the job of distributing Christmas Happiness funds. Qualifying families may receive a $35 voucher for each eligible child. The vouchers can only be used for children’s items.

Capt. NaKisha Carr of the Salvation Army says parents don’t want just toys for their children. Of those who have applied for assistance so far, 85 to 90 percent say their first priority is clothes — winter shirts and pants and coats to keep growing children warm.

“The economy is so tight,” Carr says. The Salvation Army started getting requests for help well before the application process started.

Of all the programs to help families during the holidays, Christmas Happiness stands apart because it provides vouchers, Carr says. “It gives parents that sense of dignity that they’re buying the gift,” she says. Parents know what their children need and what will fit.

Contributions to Christmas Happiness will be collected through Christmas Day.
Donations may be delivered to the Salisbury Post, 131 W. Innes St., between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays. Or you can mail your gift, using this address: Salisbury Post Christmas Happiness Fund, P.O. Box 4639, Salisbury, N.C. 28145-4639. Please make checks payable to Christmas Happiness Fund and indicate how you want your donation listed.
Here are this year’s first donations: 
Le Jeudi Book Club $195.00
Overton Scholars, Staff and Families, by Overton Student Council  $50.00
Salisbury Post $1000.00
Anonymous $30.00
Total $1,275.00
Need help? An umbrella group called the Rowan County Christmas Bureau takes applications for the Post’s Christmas Happiness Fund, the Salvation Army Angel Tree, Toys for Tots, Project Santa and Arc of Rowan’s Operation Santa. Coordinated by the United Way, the group took applications two days earlier this month. There’s one application day left —  9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 5, at the J.F. Hurley YMCA, 828 Jake Alexander Boulevard W.