The Journal staff

SENECA — While the countdown is in single digits for Thanksgiving, another deadline is rushing up behind it: Christmas for Kids.

There are less than two weeks between Thanksgiving and the last day to drop off gifts for Oconee County children whose Christmas needs an extra dose of merry. There are already 441 children on the list who need a sponsor to provide some basic needs — socks, a coat, shoes that fit — and a fun toy or two off their list. Thankfully, a few of those have gracious donors lined up.

The kicker is that, though there are already 201 families signed up for Christmas assistance, the majority of applicants don’t fill out their forms until after Thanksgiving.

“People don’t start really thinking about it until after Thanksgiving, and the week of — or week after — Thanksgiving is when I get my big push for applications,” Christmas for Kids director Kim Kelly said. “We’re still about 250 families shy on applications, so I’m nervous they’ll show up afterward, and that’s half our kids.”

Last year, Christmas for Kids helped more than 1,000 children from 452 families. That number has grown each holiday for the past 19 years, and organizers expect nothing different this year when the post-turkey rush hits.

Kelly expects to add at least another 20 families to the total count this year, with more than 200 of them coming between Thanksgiving and the Dec. 11 application deadline. Children accepted close to the deadline will still have Christmas presents under the tree, thanks to generous monetary donations.

About 90 percent of the money given to CFK — the county’s largest nonprofit — is used to purchase clothing, shoes, toys, books and everything in between at local businesses. More than 85 percent of that is spent in Oconee County to keep all the dollars as local as possible.

The CFK elves spend the warmer months shopping for special deals — springtime coat clearances, for instance — to make the most of the funds all year long.

“We shop year-round trying to find the best deals and get the best prices we can on things,” Kelly said. “We’re responsible with our money. We try to make the most out of what we get, and at the same time give the kids more than their family could provide.”

Black Friday offers plenty of great deals and the perfect opportunity to add a child in need to the Christmas shopping list, though only one-third of the children on the list are sponsored each year. The rest are provided gifts, typically with a wish list item or two checked off, from the CFK inventory bought with community donations.

March and April are prime opportunities for buying winter clothing, Kelly said, and she can usually find great deals on bigger-ticket items to give kids toys and games they could only dream of opening Christmas morning without CFK’s help.

Volunteers gave more than 1,700 hours sorting, packing and organizing gifts for families last year.

Christmas for Kids screens all applicants to ensure that they qualify to receive help, and the list of accepted families is shared with schools and other local charities to coordinate efforts and avoid someone obtaining gifts from multiple organizations.

Sponsoring a child or sibling group is easier than ever this year with an online system at As always, those who want to shop for specific children can call The Journal at (864) 882-2375.

Unwrapped gifts can be brought to The Journal from 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.

For more information on volunteering, signing up for assistance or donating, call Kelly at (864) 973-7608.