HAZARD — Thirty-three years ago Marlow Tackett was playing music and running a dinner club. He had always been involved in charity, and often used his music to raise funds for various programs. It was during one of these fundraising concerts that his holiday season was changed forever.
A little girl at the concert saw him and how he was able to help raise money for a good cause. She sent him a letter, not knowing his address and sent it simply to Marlow Tackett, Marlow Kentucky. By a stroke of luck the postmaster knew who he was and made sure the letter got to him.
The letter asked if he could help her and her six little siblings buy a gift for their mom for Christmas. The letter also contained a small school photo of the girl. “It was a little school picture,” Tackett said. “She had black hair and was a very pretty little girl.”
It was a genuine plea for help from the young girl and her siblings that he said he couldn’t ignore. “It bothered me a lot,” said Tackett. “There had to be something to it.”
Tackett found the girl’s home address and took a band member with him to visit the family. He knocked on the door of the home and the little girl answered. He came in and asked to speak to the girl’s mother. The only furniture in the home was an old car seat used as a couch and a mattress on the floor. He asked her if it would be alright if he helped out with their Christmas.
“She seemed to be very special and very sincere,” Tackett continued. “She said, yes, it will be fine if you wish.”
The home was decorated for Christmas with a cedar tree held up by rocks piled around it. On the tree were photos cut from catalogs pasted to the branches.
He helped this family and purchased them toys, clothes, furniture, anything that they wanted or needed. He thought if this family was in this situation, there must be others that could use help at Christmas, too.
It was in seeing this home and meeting this family that Tackett formulated an idea. This idea has been with him for the last 33 years. He created Marlow’s Christmas for the Needy. This annual event is held in different places across Eastern Kentucky and this year he is bringing it to Perry County. He will be filling the American Woodmark building in the Coal Fields Industrial Park with what he is calling a Christmas town.
Items from clothes to furniture to food and toys will be given out during Christmas. All of these items will be donated to the program by businesses and individuals, many from the area but some from around the country.
Tackett is asking for people to get involved and donate whatever they can, including time. Last year the event was held at Food World in Letcher County and saw over 8,000 people receive needed items for Christmas.
While so many received items, many also gave. “So many people came out and helped doing things like separating the toys, the food, the children’s little toys like the dolls and trucks and all of the things of Christmas,” said Tackett.
Last year’s Christmas for the Needy was the largest to date, but Tackett has hopes that Perry County’s can be even bigger despite a late start. He noted that he had difficulty finding the right venue this year, but is excited to come to Chavies to host the event.
People come from several counties over to take advantage of the much needed items that are made available through the program. “We accept any kind of non-perishable foods, toys can be new or used,” said Tackett. “We are going to decorate and it is an exciting place for the people to come.”
Tackett said that anyone looking to donate items can drop off at American Woodmark, LKLP, Kentucky Farm Bureau on Morton Boulevard, Gospel Light Church, Dorton Family Dollar, or Hair of Mine in Jenkins. Donations can also be made directly to a family.
“If somebody has got something to give, whether it is a company or an individual or whoever, they can come there at the Christmas Store and they can pick out a family and they can give it to them themselves,” said Tackett.
He said it is important to him to have as much transparency in the program as possible so that people know every item donated goes to a family in need. “If anybody has any doubt at all they can bring something and they will find a family they can give it to,” said Tackett.
With so many families in need this season due to layoffs in the coal industry and related fields, Tackett said that he is sympathetic to the needs of these families and many others across the region due in part to his upbringing. He grew up in a large family and always vowed he wanted to help people like himself.
Marlow’s Christmas for the Needy will open on Dec. 23 and will remain open until the last item is picked up by someone who needs it. Last year they remained open for a week and a half.
Anyone looking to donate or find out information can call Tackett on what he called his Christmas phone, (606) 487-9697.