As soon as I walked into the basement of the Monmouth Community Church I realized that I was about to encounter something very special. What I discovered was a group of caring people, willing to give up their free time to provide a Christmas to young children and families in the Monmouth community. What were they doing? Each volunteer was creating a Cottrell and Taylor Christmas Basket, a Monmouth tradition for forty years.

The Cottrell/Taylor Christmas Baskets started in 1967 by a Monmouth school nurse, Charlene Cunliffe. She made a home visit to a sick mother who was unable to leave her bed. When the nurse arrived the mother said that her children would not be having a Christmas that year because she was unable to work and provide presents for them. The nurse contacted Mr. Cottrell, the superintendent at the time, where they decided to involve the town office and help give the mother and her children a Christmas that they would not forget. What culminated over the next couple of days exceeded expectations. Many teachers became involved and started to help organize and donate presents for the baskets and the amount of families became more than they had anticipated. The program grew so large that two leaders were elected, one of which, Mrs. Cunliffe is still leading the committee today. Mrs. Cunliffe, with the help of her many volunteers, has turned the program into what it is today.

Each year around October, Mrs. Cunliffe and the RCAM (Rural Community Action Ministry) begin to do research and find leads on possible families who may need some extra help that year. They go to schools, the town office, and are contacted by referrals to collect all of the families they will make baskets for. Volunteers also contact the mother or father of each family to find out any specialty items they might be in need of. The baskets this year consist of meat, milk, vegetables, fruit, eggs, sugar, and a variety of other items to help the family through the winter. Last year they made baskets for sixty-two families, with fifty-nine this year, but the season is still early. They then use donated money to buy hats, gloves, and clothes for each of the families. The Monmouth community, Kelley Farm and Green House, cheerleaders, FBLA, Boy and Girl Scouts, and Student Council donate everything else, such as toys and canned goods from our school Giving Tree. Monmouth Middle School also adopts two families for the season to buy presents for.

The volunteers are a group of fifteen to sixteen kind and willing people. They are all mostly retired, but still believe it is important to contribute and give back to the community. They meet every Monday from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. up until the day before Christmas break, when the baskets are delivered. When asked, “What motivates you to make these baskets year after year?,” Mrs. Cunliffe responded by saying that she would like to think that every child and elderly person will have presents under the tree and food on the table at Christmas time.

By visiting the church that day, I really feel that I got a good sense of what Christmas is all about, making a difference. With a small effort from everyone in the Monmouth community, families who are struggling to get by are able to have a great holiday and a big smile to enter into the New Year.