DECATUR — Continuing to provide an increasing number of families low-cost holiday shopping this past year came at a cost to Operation Sleighbell.
Founder Rick Smith, pastor of Judson Chapel Baptist Church in Champaign, said the amount of carryover — clothing, toys and other gifts sold each December for $1 each — was negligible because donations were down.
“We’re starting out skinny for our shopping this December,” Smith said. “If things don’t change, we’ll probably have to help 500 fewer families than we did last year.”
Operation Sleighbell served 2,184 families Dec. 3-6 at shopping sites in Decatur, Mattoon, Champaign, Peoria and Danville compared to 2,148 in 2011. The peak was 2,329 families in 2008, the year before Wal-Mart stopped donating returned and irregular clothing to the ministry.
Smith said he’s reaching out to another retailer about donating such goods but still hopes more churches will get behind Operation Sleighbell.
“Let’s show that it’s not just the government that can help people,” he said. “It’s time people saw what the body of Christ can do.”
Mattoon’s distribution site was operated last year by First Christian Church in Mattoon and the Free Methodist Church in Neoga.
Other supporting churches include New Life Tabernacle in Sullivan and East Harrison Street Church of God in Charleston.
The 2012 activity report for Operation Sleighbell shows 138 families in Coles County were served, down from 171 the previous year.
Other county-by-county family totals were Douglas, 20, down from 15; Effingham, 36, down from 54; Fayette, 11, down from 21; Moultrie, 23, down from 41; and Shelby, 31, down from 49.
Contact Churchill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 217-421-7978.