HARROGATE, Tenn. -- The Lincoln Memorial University athletics department officially commenced the holiday season on Tuesday morning, as student-athletes, coaches and staff gathered en masse at the Middlesboro Walmart for the 51st annual ROHO Christmas shopping spree.
Fueled by the selfless fundraising efforts of the ROHO club, this year's shopping spree provided 322 unprivileged area children with Christmas gifts, allotting $110 worth of clothes and $40 worth of toys for every kid. This year's turnout was the biggest in the 50-year history of the ROHO shopping spree and represented an increase of 26 last year. It also marked the culmination of a fundraising effort that had humble beginnings in 1965, when five kids participated in the Christmas shopping spree.
The money used for the Christmas shopping spree is raised in a variety of ways, but the largest portion is collected during the ROHO club's two-day fishing tournament, which is hosted at Norris Lake in early May. Charitable donations from both local individuals and sponsors have also helped increased funding.
The Lincoln Memorial men's basketball team has been a part of the ROHO shopping spree for 13 years, while the rest of the LMU athletics department has participated for more than a decade.
"It's an honor for LMU Athletics to participate in such a worthwhile event," LMU Athletic Director Matthew Green said. "We are so very appreciative of the support that our community shows us and this is a small way for us to reciprocate. It's a blessing to have the opportunity to brighten the holiday season for so many wonderful young people. As much as we'd like to think we are making an impact on them, those children have a profound impact on our student-athletes, coaches, and staff members. It warms your heart witnessing their pure joy, the smiles on their faces, and how thankful they are."
Voice of the Railsplitters and ROHO club member Rusty Peace has served as the bridge between the LMU athletics department and the ROHO club for more than 10 years, as his dedication to both Railsplitter athletics and the ROHO club's fundraising efforts has helped make the Christmas shopping spree a can't-miss event for student-athletes and staff people alike.
"There are so many people that make the ROHO Fishing Tournament and the ROHO Shopping Spree a success each year," Peace said. "While members sell the tickets, area residents and child sponsors buy them. Just as those groups of people do their part in helping the cause, LMU athletics has become a vital part of the shopping spree's success each year. When you have over 300 children to assist and only about four hours to do it, you have got to have adequate help. And each year the LMU athletics department has not only answered the bell, but turns out in force to assist ROHO with this task. They are as much a part of our organization and cause as anyone."