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Local groups help prepare Johnson County youth for the winter

With the cold winds of winter upon us, families across Johnson County have been busy rummaging in closets, pulling out hats, coats and other winter attire as they prepare for the bitter cold and snow that often prevails in northeastern Tennessee. Several local charitable organizations have made it their mission to make sure that all children in Johnson County will have the necessary winter apparel to stay safe, dry and warm.
Beta Theta is a national organization with a local chapter in Johnson County. Several of their outreach projects involve the youth of Johnson County. Their yearly coat drive provides new, warm winter wear for approximately 200 students ranging from the youngest preschoolers through high school seniors. Staff from Johnson County schools help identify students in need.
According to Sandy Snyder who sits on the organization's coat committee, each Beta Theta member is armed with a list of the names of 10 students in need of a warm coat, jacket or a fleece-lined hoodie. According to Flo Bellamy, also a member of Beta Theta, older students are more likely to keep track of a hoodie than a heavy, down-filled jacket. With some luck, clearance racks and wise shopping, the average cost per item is approximately $20. Although sales prices and discounts help keep the cost of the winter clothing in check, approximately $4,000 is spent yearly on this endeavor.
Throughout the year, Beta Theta holds fundraisers to help provide the necessary funds for this enterprise, as well as receiving donations year round from both businesses and individuals. The sale of birthday calendars customized for each purchaser is by far the largest fundraiser for the organization. They also sell food at the Sunflower Festival, hold various suppers and have donated prize money from the Scarecrows on Main event.
Members also scout out old bicycles that are often in need of repair throughout the year for their bike program. Snyder explained that as the students receive their coats at the local community center, they are asked if they would like a bicycle. Throughout the year, members purchase parts and paint as needed as a group of prisoners at Northeast Correctional Complex work at refurbishing these bikes back to life. The inmates not only repair bicycles for students in Johnson County, but all over Tennessee. The bikes are then delivered to the community center, waiting for the students to return to claim them as their own. “The children just run for the bikes,” said Snyder. She relayed the story of one unselfish girl in middle school who did not want a bike, but wanted to make sure her brother's name was on the list. When this youngster's name was called to come up and receive his bike, he was in tears. “That's what it's all about,” she said.
The Masons, another philanthropic organization in Johnson County, provide new shoes in conjunction with the Beta Theta coat drive. The schools supply the shoe sizes needed for the students, and the Masons are able to order the shoes through an outlet in Knoxville, Tennessee. The local Kiwanis Club collects hats and gloves that are also given to the students on the same day they receive their winter wear. The students walk away from this special day, warm and toasty, and ready for whatever weather winter may bring.