Darren Doyle, story and photos:
The folks behind Santa's Helping Hands, INC. are still in awe after another record-breaking year at the group's annual benefit auction held at Edmonson County High School this past Saturday, November 4th.
"We really thought this year's numbers would be down after we were told that some of our larger supporters might not attend, but boy, were we ever wrong," said Mark Wardlow, co-founder and board member of SHH, which has now become the county's most influential nonprofit. "With the uncertainty in the world today, there was concern about turnout and bidders, but plenty of folks came out and everyone seemed to have a great time bidding or watching the bids of others."
The group completed their 19th annual event on Saturday that began years ago raising a few thousand dollars for a handful of Edmonson County families that were struggling to provide Christmas gifts and necessities for their own. Wardlow and the rest of the SHH family are now lending their "helping hands" to dozens of local families, not just through the holidays but all year round.
Nearly $90,000 was raised in a matter of a couple hours at ECHS, an astonishing number for the attending few hundred people. That money goes to fund Christmas gifts for needy children, clothing, basic needs, and personal hygiene items that they may not be able to acquire otherwise. In addition, the charity helps families throughout the year by helping those that have extended hospital stays, house fire losses, and other sudden tragedies or illnesses.
The process for receiving assistance from SHH each year goes under quite the magnifying glass as the board members adhere strictly to making sure that help isn't being squandered on those who simply refuse to help themselves. It has truly been a source of help for those that simply needed those helping hands on some occasion.
"To say Saturday was an unbelievable record-breaking day is understatement," Wardlow said.
The day started off with Congressman Brett Guthrie stopping by to address the crowd and donate UK vs Tennessee men's basketball tickets, followed by members of the Edmonson County Lions Club presenting the group with a $1K donation.
Bidders did not fool around as the first item up for grabs, a package containing UK vs. Gonzaga men's basketball tickets (donated by state rep Michael Meredith), a hotel stay, and a Rafferty's gift card went for the stunning amount of $5,000.
Another big ticket item was a homemade quilt donated by the Nimble Thimble Quilt Club that also brought $5,000.
"In the crowd, Illinois, Tennessee, Alabama, and Kentucky were all represented, and of course mostly Edmonson County," said Wardlow. "We are blessed to live in a community where people get behind a charity that supports Edmonson County residents-only."
Wardlow also noted that SHH owed many thanks to multiple organizations and individuals, including the ECHS administration for use of the gym and equipment and the donors of the items sold at the auction, which he said becomes more diverse each year.
"SHH would also like to send out a huge thank you to the ECHS volleyball team and coaches who helped unload all the items, ECHS football players Gavin Alexander, Tucker Kiernan, and Noah Meredith for helping arrange and move items around for presentation, Kennedy and Hallie Jane Stice for helping serve food all day, Kailee Hollis and Madison Hollis for their bookkeeping, Rachel Hennion, Will Alexander, Kyle and Kisha Lindsey, Marty and Tammy Lindsey, Jason and Andrea Webb, Larry Starnes, Terry Vincent Webb--they were helping behind the scenes setting up or assembling items for the auction or helping Saturday during the auction."
He also wanted to thank volunteer auctioneers Ricky Keith and Jake Keith, who have been with the annual auction for 19 years, along with Hunter Ashley, who has volunteered his auction skills in recent years.
"Also thank you to Dad’s BBQ for preparing all our food. I don’t want to leave anyone out but these people with above and beyond to help out," he added.
Wardlow said 70% of the group's annual budget is centered around the Christmas holiday but at least a dozen other families have received some sort of assistance in other ways throughout the year.
Last, but certainly not least, Wardlow wanted to thank the people of Edmonson County for 19 years of continued support and SHH is planning next year's 20th annual event to be even bigger than ever.
"We are humbled, blessed, excited, and thankful for this year's event and hope to continue working for Edmonson County in the years to come."
None of the board members are paid, they are not reimbursed for their meals, fuel, travel, etc., and 100% of the families helped are strictly Edmonson County residents. Board members consist of Wardlow and his wife Lorie, Mark Rich, Renee Rich, Jeff Rich, Lynette Saling, Scott Lindsey of Rafferty's, and Greg Nugent.
For those requesting assistance from SHH, they are instructed to write a letter with parent/guardians' names, child information, current situational info, and a working contact number to the Family Resource/Youth Services Center to any Edmonson County School, or Lifeskills, Community Action, or the Head Start Program.
The deadline for receiving assistance is November 20th.