Wintertime in the mountains, with its temperature variances and extreme weather conditions, can be a harsh season for residents of western North Carolina. For those with limited financial means living in isolated areas of the region, the cost of simply heating one’s home can be difficult to manage.
To help support those in need of assistance with their heating bills this winter, local nonprofit organization Madison Has Heart is utilizing an unlikely resource to help raise funds to support residents of Madison County this holiday season.
After coming into an eclectic, extensive collection of antique holiday decorations in their recently acquired base of operations at the old Methodist Church in the Walnut Community, members of the nonprofit have organized a community sale of the vintage Christmas items on Saturday, December 5 at its Jewell Hill location from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.
The mission of Madison Has Heart, established in 2013, is simple, according to the co-founder Pat Franklin: “The whole purpose of Madison Has Heart is to raise money for heating assistance for families in crisis.”
Inspired by reports of a lack of funding to help their neighbors heat their homes through the winter several years ago, The founding members of Madison Has Heart established the inaugural “Fanciful Flea” fundraiser in 2013 — complete with an auction of donated items, food and live music — and raised $20,000 in just one day. Working hand in hand with Neighbors In Need, a countywide program that has helped support Madison residents for over 40 years, MHH donates proceeds to help members of the community survive the colder months.
“It’s not necessarily people who get public assistance from social services,” Franklin explains. “It could be a working family that just doesn’t have enough money to make ends meet, or it could be somebody who just has had bad luck. I think the worst thing in the world is to be cold and to have children and not be able to keep your home warm. If we can do anything to make that better for folks, we certainly want to do it.”
2014’s Fanciful Flea upped the ante, raising $50,000 through sales and a private donation. “Last year we got a donation of 32,000 dollars from a group,” Franklin reports. “I couldn’t believe my eyes; we’ve had so many fortunate things happen, you kind of know that it’s just supposed to be.”
Another important donation from last year was the church at Jewell Hill itself, offered to MHH by Reverend Gene Linton and his wife upon his retirement. “I was just knocked out when I went in!” Franklin says of first inspecting the property. “I asked him if he wanted to rent it or lease it to us, and he said, ‘No, I want to give it to y’all.’ I still can’t believe it.”
What was inside the church was almost as amazing, however: hundreds of unique and rare Christmas collectibles, some of them first or second editions of ornaments that have since been retired. “This couple that lived here in the county, Ann and Harry Horrell — they had an extensive collection of Christmas ornaments — trees, Santa Clauses,” Franklin notes. “When Mrs. Horrell died, Mr. Horrell bought the old Methodist church out there at Walnut and set them up there for the community to enjoy.”
The church, says Franklin, dates back to the 1870s, and was originally the site of the first courthouse in Madison County. “The site itself is full of history,” she says, with graves in the surrounding cemetery dating back to the early 1800s. “We have people sleeping in our yard that founded the county: Dr. Hardwick and his wife; Mr. Stackhouse and his wife are right there. I have family buried. We certainly have a lot of respect for our neighbors.”
Inside the church, the treasure trove of holiday trinkets included Byers Choice carolers, Dickens Village sets, and “about 250 Santa Clauses,” Franklin says. “We’ve gone over every single one of them with a makeup brush and cleaned the clothes, spruced them up a little and changed their batteries. It’s been like a hospital in there!”
She says that the Dec. 5 sale is great for collectors and the generally curious alike. “We’ll be offering those [items] at a good price. It’ll be a bargain for collectors.” Pricing on the various decorations range from $5 to $250, depending on the item. “Many of the items are worth a lot more than that,” she adds. “But we want them to go home with somebody and have a new home and contribute to their Christmas.”
Proceeds from the event will go towards helping the organization renovate the church and open it up for continued public use. “One of the things that we promised when [the church] was given to us was that we’d use it for the good of the community,” says Franklin. MHH plans to restore the original wood flooring, walls and ceiling, and eventually utilize the space for community events. “It’d be a great place to have a wedding or a funeral, a homecoming or a family reunion. You walk around out there, and you just think about what happened to here 100 years ago.”The Christmas sale will also clear space for 2016’s Fanciful Flea event, which is expected to happen sometime in February of 2016. Madison Has Heart is currently looking for donations for that event, including anything from clothes to home furnishings, books and jewelry. All donations are tax deductible and go towards helping to finance heating assistance for Madison residents.
While a drop-off location for donations hasn’t been announced yet, those interested in donating items for the 2016 Fanciful Flea event can call 828-649-2332 for further details.
“Please start cleaning those closets now!” says the organization through its website. “You are going to need the space for all your Dec. 5 [Christmas sale] purchases.”
For more information on the Dec. 5 Madison Has Heart Christmas Sale or to see some of the items up for grabs, visit madisonhasheart.org/christmas-sale/. To learn more about Madison Has Heart and to support its efforts to provide heating assistance for residents of Madison County, check out madisonhasheart.org or look them up on Facebook at facebook.com/madisonhasheart/.