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Christmas for children in need: the legacy of Moonshine Fest
moonshine 2020
The 53rd annual Mountain Moonshine Festival is set to take place from Friday, Oct. 23 to Sunday, Oct. 25. - photo by Erica Schmidt

While most people in the North Georgia area have at least heard about the Mountain Moonshine Festival or maybe have driven through Dawsonville while it was in full swing, not everyone knows the true impact the festival has on local children in the community. 

According to K.A.R.E. for Kids president Rhonda Goodwin and Executive Director Tiffany Buchan the true impact of the three day festival goes way beyond the weekend it takes place, impacting hundreds of families in need each year that would otherwise be going into the holiday season with few resources to provide presents for their little ones. 

Last year, according to K.A.R.E for Kids, the organization was able to provide Christmas gifts for 650 local children. The money for those presents were raised through donations to K.A.R.E. for Kids, yes, but the bulk of those presents are a direct result of the Moonshine Festival. 

“All funds from the festival go to help the children,” Goodwin said. “Our main focus is brightening the lives of the children at Christmas.”

The gifts are given to local children depending on their need. Goodwin and Buchan conduct one-on-one interviews with the families who apply for Christmas gifts and then shop for the presents each child wants or needs. 

“We interview the families and then start shopping, and then families come back to pick the gifts up,” Buchan said. 

Not only are the funds for the Christmas gift program raised in Dawson County through the Moonshine Festival, but Buchan said that the organization also makes sure to keep the proceeds in the community. 

“We shop at the local Walmart and give part back to the local Boy Scouts and police who help with security,” Buchan said. “But we make sure the money stays in the county, and the children who receive the gifts are Dawson County children too.” 

Children from newborns up to seniors in high school can apply for the Christmas gifts. K.A.R.E. for Kids starts accepting applications and conducting interviews the week after the festival. All of the money spent on the gifts comes from either donations or the festival, which makes the festival very important to not only the organization but also the children receiving gifts. 

“We get no government funding, so it’s one hundred percent funded through the festival and donations,” Goodwin said.

Both Goodwin and Buchan said that all the work they do is its own reward, and they each have countless stories of specific children they’ve gotten to help through the Christmas gift program. 

“It’s the grandparents that really get me,” Buchan said. “Like we had one grandma come in with her grandchildren and she had a 35-year-old disabled daughter at home too, but she was never down about anything; she was just always happy.” 

Goodwin said that one of her stories that makes her tear up every time she tells it is the story of a boy who couldn’t afford shoes for school.

“A school counselor called me about this boy whose classmates had noticed he always wore dress shoes to gym class and said he needed new shoes,” Goodwin said. “ So we got his shoe size and I went out to the school to give him a new pair of shoes.” 

The counselor called the boy into the office, and Goodwin said that when he took off the worn dress shoes his toes were crumpled from being constantly squeezed into the same pair of shoes that were too small for him.

“His face just lit up like a lightbulb when we gave him the new shoes,” Goodwin said. “He was just so excited.” 

One of the goals in the Christmas gift program is to make each child feel special by tailoring the Christmas gifts to each specific child’s wishes and needs. 

“We get very specific details for each child, so if red is their favorite color they get red,” Goodwin said. “We don’t want to be generic, and we get to really know the families.”

Buchan said that every year there are complaints about the traffic in Dawsonville due to the festival, but that if citizens knew the cause it supports she hopes they would feel differently about it.

“If people just knew why we did this, they could put up with the traffic for one weekend a year,” Buchan said. “It just takes us all working together; we’re doing this because we care.” 

K.A.R.E. for Kids is always accepting donations, both monetary donations and unwrapped, new Christmas gifts to donate to the Christmas program. 

“We keep the heart a part of our mission, so we put up star trees in the community at places like Walmart, United Bank, Regions and many more,” Buchan said. “We wanna share the blessing of giving, so you can sponsor a child or donate items.” 

No matter how big or small the donation, every dollar makes a difference, according to Goodwin. 

“There was one time an older lady came into our office and said she wanted to make a donation,” Goodwin said. “She pulled out five one-dollar bills, and even though that was all she could afford that’s still one of my most memorable donations we’ve gotten.” 

For those who do need assistance bringing Christmas to their children, Goodwin and Buchan said that there is no shame in asking for help.

“Any of us could be in this situation,” Goodwin said. “So anybody can come in our door; there’s no shame in asking for help.” 

Buchan said that all she and the rest of the K.A.R.E. for Kids group want is for those who need help to come ask for it. 

“We really put blinders on during the whole application process,” Buchan said. “So it’s just in and out, smooth and easy, and there’s no judgment on our part.” 

The process of planning and executing both the festival and the Christmas gift program are a year-round effort. 

“We take the applications right after the festival and work on those,” Goodwin said, “then we take a couple weeks’ break after Christmas and start planning for the next year’s festival.” 

This year, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, K.A.R.E. for Kids is anticipating the need to be greater than usual and therefore needs as much help as possible to provide Christmas to local children. 

To donate to K.A.R.E. for Kids, you can visit the organization’s website at http://www.kareforkids.org/ or mail a check to P.O. Box 211.