Monday, November 22, 1999

Giving heart helps needy at holidays

Woman collects clothing, toys during year

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Juanita Ross, 72, of Colerain Township, stands on her porch amid stacks of boxes filled with donated toys and clothes bound for Cranks, Ky.
(Gary Landers photos)
| ZOOM |
        COLERAIN TOWNSHIP — Juanita Ross spent part of her morning raking the leaves that spread across her yard, trying to stay ahead of the fall.

        “Between the yard and this project I got going, I don't have much time,” Ms. Ross said.

        The project she has going keeps her busy much of the year. For the past seven or eight years, Ms. Ross has established something of a Christmas caravan to Cranks, Ky., population 350, located in Harlan County, just 3 miles from the Virginia state line.

        Bags and boxes of clothing and toys pile up on her front porch through the seasons. She lugs them to her back porch, where she re-packs them in boxes that she gets from a grocery store, marks them appropriately and stores them.

        By early December, the toys and clothing are headed for Cranks and the Cranks Creek Survival Center, a food and clothing pantry that serves poor families in the area.

        The boxes are loaded onto a tractor-trailer provided by Rumpke Consolidated Companies, which then makes the five-hour drive south. This is the third year Rumpke has helped Ms. Ross.

        Rumpke also will have a drop-off at its main entrance for anyone wanting to contribute. The days and time have yet to be determined.

        “It's amazing to see the types of resources people can consolidate with a minimal amount of effort,” said Shelly Sack, communications coordinator for Rumpke. “We try to do an awful lot in the community. It's Mrs. Ross' project that we support.”

Abundant donations
        Ms. Ross took a break from raking leaves and walked onto a porch loaded with packed boxes.

        “I never even used my back porch this summer,” she said. “This morning a lady brought me a box of stuffed animals. And this little old man brought a box of clothes. He could hardly carry it. Sometimes I come home and it's piled against the door. Sometimes nobody leaves their name.”

        Ms. Ross is 72 years old, and she's been taking on projects like this for the past 10 years. She discovered Cranks, Ky., a place she's never been to visit, when she was talking with a religious brother from the Mary Magdalen House, which serves the homeless in Over-the-Rhine. He told her about Cranks Creek.

        “I don't know,” she said. “I just have a soft spot for people.”

        Rebecca Sampson, who founded the Survival Center in 1983, said the center has served thousands of families in a region of Kentucky that saw the passing of the coal boom of the 1970s.

        “Morally, she's a wonderful person,” said Ms. Sampson of Ms. Ross. “She's got a lot of feelings for people.”

Busy holidays
        Ms. Sampson said the Survival Center serves 600 to 700 families around the holidays, drawing from four counties and even from Virginia. Because the economy is depressed and unemployment high, Ms. Sampson said, young, working-age people leave the area in search of construction jobs in Cincinnati and Lexington.

        While Ms. Ross has never been to Cranks, Ms. Sampson has been to Cincinnati to visit Ms. Ross, staying overnight and going out to dinner and breakfast.

        “You become more than just friends,” Ms. Sampson said. “You have a lot of personal feelings for people like Juanita.”

        The response, mostly through word of mouth, has always been more than generous. While much of the stuff is new, Ms. Ross can make use of good, used toys and clothing. Like the plastic garbage bags that bulge with clothing in a corner of her back porch.

        “That's just the way people are,” Ms. Ross said.

        To donate items, call Ms. Ross at 385-6975.


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