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The Christmas Dream Tree, pictured above, has the names and wish-lists of local children still needing sponsors. The tags hanging on the wall next to the tree are children that have already been sponsored. The Christmas Dream Machine’s generous sponsors “adopt a child” by choosing a name from the tree, shopping for that child and bringing back the gifts from the wish-list. They will accept donations and sponsors for children until December 19. - SVT Photo by Gabrielle Stevenson
By Gabrielle Stevenson
Every year during the Christmas season, many families living paycheck to paycheck have to make a difficult decision between buying Christmas toys and presents for their children or making sure all the bills are paid. The Christmas Dream Machine, a non-profit 501-(c) (3) based in Lake City, seeks to ease this burden and make local children’s Christmas dreams come true. For the past twenty-eight years, the organization has served Columbia, Suwannee, Hamilton and Union counties and is run entirely by volunteers. They begin the operation on November 1 and run through December 21, collecting and distributing gifts to eligible families that are truly in need.
Founder and Director Meally Jenkins said she started the Dream Machine in honor of her father, Tom Jenkins. One of eight siblings, she said she remembers how hard it was for her own parents when Christmas time came around. But, Jenkins said her parents always found a way to give back no matter what and their good will inspired her to start the Dream Machine.
The Dream Machine is run entirely through sponsors and donations and Jenkins meets with and interviews the parents of the children they help to determine eligibility. She said their main objective is to help families and parents that help themselves and that receiving welfare does not make anyone eligible for assistance. They determine eligibility on a case by case basis.
Above Photos: Toys waiting and ready to be distributed to local children in need this Christmas. -SVT Photo by Gabrielle Stevenson
Once eligibility is determined, the children’s names and ages are put on a paper tree ornament with their Christmas “wish-lists” written on the back of each one. The wish-list ornaments are hung on a Christmas tree at the Dream Machine’s location in Lake City. Sponsors “adopt a child” by choosing a name from the tree, shopping for that child and bringing back the gifts from the wish-list. Some sponsors choose to donate a large number of items at one time, like basketballs and footballs. Often times the Dream Machine already has some of the wish-list items from those sponsors large donations, so some lists only require two or three more items to complete. Jenkins said some people just donate cash for the cause and those funds are used to purchase gift items for older children, who often do not get sponsored.
Gift items the Dream Machine needs most are presents for pre-teen and teenage boys and girls such as: toothbrushes and toothpaste, deodorant, body wash kits, nail polish kits, AXE body spray kits, juniors/teen size clothing, socks, underwear and similar items for the older children.
Director Jenkins said one of the most rewarding and heartfelt things to witness at the Christmas Dream Machine is seeing families they helped in the past come back to sponsor children in following years. Over the organization’s years in operation, they have created a network of community giving that continues to grow, lighting up local children’s’ eyes each year as they wake up Christmas morning to open presents they would not have otherwise had.
Jenkins said, “I want to thank all of our wonderful sponsors that help make this happen every year. The community’s generosity is so great. No matter how small the donation, it’s always a blessing.”
The Christmas Dream Machine’s location can change every year because different businesses sponsor them, but it is always in Lake City. This year, Lake City Medical Center was their location sponsor. These sponsors take care of all their light, water and space needs, allowing the Christmas Dream Machine to continue to thrive. The address is 2970 West US Highway 90, Lake City, FL 32025, in the plaza across the street from the Waffle House on Highway 90. The office phone number is (386) 758-8398. The deadline to apply to receive gifts is December 1 and they will accept donations and sponsors for children until December 19. They will distribute the toys to the families December 20 and 21. All donations to the Dream Machine are tax deductible.
Director Jenkins and her group of volunteers wish the community a Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas. They invite the community to stop in at the plaza and help make a child’s Christmas dreams come true this year.
Look for this sign on US Highway 90 in Lake City, adjacent the plaza the Christmas Dream Machine is currently located in. - SVT Photo by Gabrielle Stevenson
This year, the Christmas Dream Machine is located at 2970 West US Highway 90, Lake City, FL 32025 and is being sponsored to be in the location by Lake City Medical Center. - SVT Photo by Gabrielle Stevenson