Volunteers from Hamblen County came together to put some smiles on kids’ faces on Wednesday.

The Rotary Club of Morristown A.M. hosted its yearly Christmas shopping spree at Walmart Crockett Trace on Davy Crockett Parkway to assist vulnerable children in the area. Many of the children served through the 37th-annual shopping spree have inadequate clothing for the winter season and the Rotary A.M.’s goal was to provide new clothing, educational supplies, personal necessities, as well as toys, for student shoppers during the holiday season.

“Each year, it’s a different circumstance with different children, and they all have needs,” said State Sen. Steve Southerland, R-Morristown, who is in his 30th year of participation in the shopping spree. “We all wanted to give back to the kids who are less fortunate. This is their Christmas.

“It’s something we look forward to every year, helping people.”

District 10 State Rep. Rick Eldridge, R-Morristown, participated in his first shopping spree, and said it felt good to get away from politics to help kids.

“It’s been great. I’ve enjoyed the heck out of it,” he said. “This is what it’s all about. It’s about helping the community.”

Students were greeted with snacks and a visit from Santa Claus during the shopping spree. Eldridge said seeing happy faces is what makes the venture worthwhile.

“This brings a lot of joy, not just to the kids, but to us as well,” he said. “Seeing the smiles on these kids’ faces makes it even more heartwarming.”

“(Having Eldridge and Southerland’s participation) is very valuable,” said Jessica Rich, 2019 president of Rotary A.M. “They’re very engaged with the community.

“They contribute the time and energy every year – and they enjoy doing it.”

Eldridge shared a story of how his family struggled during his childhood, saying he more than identified with the vulnerability of the children who arrived at Walmart.

“When I was growing up, I was staying with my grandparents in a poor, rural community,” he said. “Christmas was my favorite time of year, and my mother always made sure I got something for Christmas, no matter what.”

Principals and teachers from all 11 Hamblen County elementary schools selected 10 students between the ages of six to 11 to participate in the 2019 Christmas Shopping Spree. About $20,000 was raised through donations to pay for the event, which is generally held between the Dec. 17 and Dec. 19, just before students go home for the Christmas break.

“We get $75 for each child, and we pay the rest,” Southerland said. “In the end, we always go over, but that doesn’t matter.”

Students arrived in two shifts, an 8:30 a.m. shift, and a 9:15 a.m. shift to prevent overwhelming the Walmart cashiers.

“We have 110 volunteers, and they do a great job,” Rich said. “We load the carts, then I take them to the schools.

“We have built a great system here.”

Rich also said it takes time to survey each bag to make sure it reaches the correct school, but the system has worked.

“We’ve only had one bag lost, and that was last year,” she said. “It took us four hours to find it, but we did find it.”

Rich thanked the volunteers who took the time from their schedules to help, as well as sponsors for the shopping spree, including Walmart, Colortech and Southeast Industrial Construction. She also thanked Marilyn Medley and Tish Jones, co-chairpersons for the Christmas Shopping Spree.

“We couldn’t have done this without our sponsors,” Rich said. “Also, we’ve gotten wonderful support from the community.”