MORGAN AND SCOTT CO., Tenn. (WVLT) - Thanksgiving is tomorrow, but one organization helping the needy is already looking ahead to December.
That's because there's an extreme shortage of donated gifts in Scott County, the county with the highest unemployment rate in the state.
Typically the Morgan-Scott Project gives 1,300 kids in Scott County several presents for Christmas. But this year with unemployment rising and job uncertainty, Santa may not be visiting as many homes
"I don't care how poor you are, you want the same things everybody else does, and you need the same things everybody else has," said Ella Smith, the organization's executive director.
Smith learned that lesson growing up poor. That's why she and others make sure families who come to the thrift store in Deer Lodge, Morgan County, can take home a box full of food, including chicken for Thanksgiving.
"It is nice to help out others, but it'd be really nice to go to work," said Sean Cartee, who is back in school and looking for work.
That's the reality about 20% of people in Scott County face, and now unemployment is hurting the very organization that helps the poorest.
Smith says when St. Mary's Hospital closed, so did many checkbooks.
"They gave approximately 200 large gifts each year, so that's missing. Some of the other plants that have laid off employees or shut down, they provided gifts or financial aid to us also," said Smith.
On top of that, the homeless shelter in Huntsville is receiving less money. It's still reeling from the shooting of its leader, Jerry Voiles.
"It's been really difficult for me and for the shelter in Scott County. Jerry was a very important part, in fact the shelter would've never been without Jerry," said Smith.
But she and others are determined to push for donations to make sure no needy child is ignored on Christmas.
"You see some of the kids' faces, the adults' faces that are excited to be able to do something for their kids and it makes all the things you've done worthwhile," said Loretta Brock, who works at the thrift store.
If you want to help the Morgan-Scott Project this Christmas, you can call 423-965-3131.
The families will receive the gifts in Scott County on December 15 at the Oneida Boys and Girls Club.