Crazy Quilt party gives kids a merrier Christmas

The Catholic Charities ministry in Newcomb distributes toys to more than 250 children          

By Dan McWilliams

The annual Christmas party at the Crazy Quilt Friendship Center in Newcomb on Dec. 16 saw more than 250 young people receive toys, bicycles, and more.

Donations from East Tennessee Catholics and churchgoers of other faith traditions helped make Christmas a little brighter for needy children of Appalachia who live in and around the northern Campbell County town outside of Jellico along the Kentucky border.

Pat Bryant (center) talks with Ed Bryant (left) and Deacon David Duhamel as Betty Ashton (in vest) and Patty Hicks look on before the Christmas party at the Crazy Quilt Friendship Center on Dec. 16. (Photo Dan McWilliams)

Crazy Quilt is a ministry of Catholic Charities of East Tennessee that is nearly 50 years old. It operates a food pantry and a Pregnancy Help Center, and its toy distribution at Christmastime has benefited thousands over the years.

Program supervisor Ed Bryant of Catholic Charities stood at the door of the Crazy Quilt during the party and kept the line of children and their families moving, inviting those waiting to enter the center and wishing those leaving a merry Christmas.

Mr. Bryant, who lives in Newcomb and has worked for Catholic Charities since 2011, has taken part in the toy giveaway for 25 years.

“This is my neighborhood. This is where I go to church. This is my community, and I like to help my community all I can,” he said. “We like to help the most vulnerable people in our community and the surrounding area. We appreciate Catholic Charities and what they do for us here. They have really helped us in this community, and I just can’t thank them enough.”

Mr. Bryant’s wife, Pat, has volunteered alongside him the whole time. She said the party “to me, means the kids get something. For some of them, this is all they get.”

Deacon David Duhamel, executive director of CCETN, attended the Christmas party in Newcomb.

“It means a lot to the kids, and for us at Catholic Charities, it’s one of our most important missions that we have here, serving the people, our neighbors, up here in the Appalachia region of East Tennessee,” he said. [The party] brings a little bit of Christmas cheer to these kids who may not have the resources or the ability to have the Christmas that most of us experience.”

The Pregnancy Help Center at the Crazy Quilt, blessed by Cardinal Justin Rigali in 2017, is led by program coordinator Allison Overbay.

“We have approximately 23 mothers who she’s working with and helping their families,” Deacon Duhamel said. “Some of those families are here today. I just encountered one family with three little ones. It’s a very complementary program between the Crazy Quilt and the Pregnancy Help Center.”

Michelle Kitts, program director for Catholic Charities, also came to the party. She is a native of Jacksboro, the county seat of Campbell County located about 30 miles south of Newcomb.

A youngster tries out a new bicycle at the Crazy Quilt as her family watches at right. Assisting the girl on her ride is the Grinch, Allison Overbay. Also pictured are Betty Ashton and Gary Douglas. (Photo Dan McWilliams)

The toy distribution “gives us a chance to really reach out to our community, get to know the kids, get to know the people we’re serving up here. It really helps build the relationship for the work we continue on during the year,” she said. “There’s a lot of poverty in this community.”

The toys come from a variety of sources, according to Ms. Kitts.

“Some come out of Knoxville, just community members collecting. Some come from our parishes. Sometimes we just have community members come into the office and drop off toys,” she said.

The Jellico Rescue Squad provided security and traffic control for the Christmas party. Marty Bowlin, a captain with the rescue squad, handed out bags to each family leaving the party.

“The bags are full of snacks, treats, and stocking stuffers for the kids,” Ms. Kitts said.

Patty Hicks, sporting reindeer antlers at the party, has volunteered for some 10 years at the Crazy Quilt.

“This is so good for Newcomb because we don’t have much here,” she said of the event. “There’s a lot of need here.”

As a school cook for 30 years at Jellico High School and the now-closed Newcomb Elementary School, Ms. Hicks remembers some of the young parents attending the Crazy Quilt party when they visited as kids and received toys.

“I saw a lot of the kids who are coming through here today when they were young people and came and got toys,” she said.

Ms. Overbay, program coordinator for the Pregnancy Help Center at the Crazy Quilt, wore a Grinch costume at the Christmas party and said she knew most of the smaller children who came. She said “there’s not a whole lot here to do” in Newcomb.

A young boy looks at a new Fisher Price toy at the Crazy Quilt Christmas party. (Photo Dan McWilliams)

“For them, getting to come out here and pick out whatever they want, I’m sure it’s made their whole week,” she said.

A good number of the children coming to the party were infants whose parents were assisted by the pregnancy center, which offers an array of clothing, diapers, and other items to help young moms and dads.

“Most of the kids who come in here have been through the center here,” Ms. Overbay said. “Their parents have been signed up, so I kind of know them. When they come in here to buy stuff, they bring the older ones with them. A lot of them just call me Miss Allison when they come in—they sit there and color while their parents are in here.”

As the Grinch, Ms. Overbay did not attempt to steal Christmas as did her Dr. Seuss counterpart, but she did frighten a couple of youngsters.

“One of them was my own. She wouldn’t even let me hold her,” she said.

Ed Bryant of Catholic Charities kept the line moving in and out of the door at the Crazy Quilt during the Christmas party and toy giveaway Dec. 16. Mr. Bryant wished a merry Christmas to those departing. (Photo Dan McWilliams)

Crazy Quilt was founded in 1975 by Sister Yvonne Nelson of the Presentation Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary and has been a ministry of Catholic Charities for many years. The center survived a 2002 fire that destroyed the entire contents of its original building, reopening in 2004 at its current location.

Wanda Perkins attended the Christmas party in December and well remembers Sister Yvonne, Sister Anne Hablas, PBVM, and Sister Sheila Barrett, PBVM, from their years of service at the Crazy Quilt.

“They’re the ones who helped me from the Catholic diocese, through the Crazy Quilt, get my GED, and I went on and helped other people get their GED, plus I helped run a college program through Carson-Newman,” Ms. Perkins recalled. “We did a college program here locally, and I was on that board. Carson-Newman came in, and we had 40-some people get their BA degree.”

The Presentation Sisters “were so good,” she added. “It was kind of like God sent them. They were trying to help everybody, like me—I was a high school dropout. At the age of 19, I had three kids. I got my GED through Sister Anne Hablas, and then she took me to Morehead State University for four nights for training—I’d never been away from my kids. Through the Campbell County school board, I became the first para-professional tutor in the state of Tennessee. I went out into the homes and the mountains and helped people learn to read and write and get their GED.”

Crazy Quilt formerly offered a craft program to help those it served earn a little extra money.

“I would make crafts to pay my electric bill. You’d get like 45 cents a craft. There are a lot of stories here,” Ms. Perkins said.

One child at the Crazy Quilt already has a toy she likes, but Joyce Douglas points out another one she can have. In the background is Michelle Kitts, program director for Catholic Charities. (Photo Dan McWilliams)

Mr. Bryant estimates there were about 600 toys at the Christmas party.

“We were planning on 250 kids. We’re a bit close to that. We really appreciate our donors,” he said. “We have one group that has helped the Crazy Quilt for years. They don’t have any affiliation with Catholic Charities, but they have been a donor. They’ve raised money every year and gone out and bought toys. They started doing that back before I ever went to work for Catholic Charities.”

A number of toys were left over after the party. Mr. Bryant said those toys will find a home at schools as well as at another facility started by the Presentation Sisters near the White Oak community.

“We will gather them up, and we’ll split them among the different places. They have angel trees and kids who they help. We send them stuff to pass out to the kids,” he said.

Mr. Bryant is looking forward to the 2024 Crazy Quilt Christmas party, he said.

“I’m not planning on retiring. I’ll be 79 in January, and I plan on at least being here next year for Christmas.”

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