Johnson County Christmas Bureau is ‘neighbors helping neighbors’

Johnson County Christmas Bureau
The Johnson County Christmas Bureau has planned this year’s pop-up event at 9701 Metcalf Ave., in Overland Park, the same location as last year. Photo by Johnson County Christmas Bureau

Every year at the beginning of the Christmas season, the Johnson County Christmas Bureau helps low-income neighbors in the county. Here’s how the nonprofit organization operates and how people can get involved.

The Lenexa-based nonprofit will operate a holiday shop from Nov. 30 to Dec. 8 at 9701 Metcalf Ave., Overland Park. This was the former Sears store and the same location as last year’s pop-up shop.

Larry Bigus, executive director of Johnson County Christmas Bureau, said the nonprofit’s cause is important to him because of its local impact, with residents helping their neighbors “who fell on hard times,” such as getting laid off from work or having a medical emergency.

He said 34,000 Johnson County residents live below the federal poverty level. These people cannot afford a lot of life’s necessities.

“They have to make choices every day such as whether to put gas in the car or buy food for dinner,” Bigus said. “They don’t have the money to buy coats for their kids. They don’t have the money to buy enough food for the month. And they need help.”

Bigus said low-income neighbors are “people just like you and I,” but something went wrong in their life and they’re unable to earn enough to pull themselves up. Most people are below the poverty level for two or three years “and then manage to pull themselves out,” he added.

After applying to participate, residents with low incomes receive an appointment to visit the holiday shop, where they can receive winter coats, new children’s clothing, personal care items, books, hats, gloves and scarves, food and other items.

Johnson County Christmas Bureau
Johnson County Christmas Bureau is accepting donations at any of the 31 donation barrels located across the county, including this one at Merriam City Hall. Photo by City of Merriam

Bigus said the people who need help are the people we see every day: The clerk at the store, the pizza delivery guy, the fast food worker and the employees at the convenience stores.

“When you come to the shop and you volunteer and you meet the clients — our neighbors — it is a very warm, positive holiday feeling,” he said. “You get to know our low-income neighbors as human beings, not as numbers or statistics. You don’t realize the challenge they face because they aren’t earning enough.”

Bigus said 30 percent of jobs in Johnson County pay less than $15 an hour, and “it takes more than $15 an hour to pull a family above the poverty line.”

The second impetus pushing Bigus to be involved with the nonprofit is the countywide impact of poverty.

“It lowers educational achievement, it increases crime rate, it increase health care costs and premiums,” he said. “So by helping our low-income neighbors, you’re also helping all of the community by alleviating the problems caused by poverty.”

Visit the nonprofit’s website to sign up to volunteer or find a donation barrel. The nonprofit accepts monetary donations as well; these can be arranged by calling 913-341-4342, or admin@jccb.org.