Robert “Bobby” Blankenship has spent his entire childhood and adulthood in Columbia, South Carolina. He worked his way to success at what is now Wachovia Bank and retired as senior vice-president almost 10 years ago. Early retirement was strange and quick for Blankenship and he soon was called to the Salvation Army to join their ranks and help with the Families Helping Families Christmas program, which was founded in Columbia in 1991.
The Families Helping Families Christmas program is a collaborative effort between its partners, volunteers, community organizations and private citizens to raise money to purchase food, gifts, and clothing for needy families at Christmastime. Since its inception in 1991, the program has increased and expanded from a program that served 200 families, to the program that today serves more than 4,000 families and elderly individuals in four counties in South Carolina.
The Families Helping Families program operates almost entirely through the generosity of volunteers. Blankenship is responsible for the recruitment of approximately 99% of the volunteers who work with the program. He is not afraid to call up old friends and remind them of their civic duty to “come down and work about 20 hours next week, to help the neediest families in Columbia.” These friends include past presidents of organizations, bank officials, retired Marine Corps members, and business people. It makes no difference from where they come; they all know and love Blankenship. During any given day there are 60-70 volunteers working for the program.
Blankenship’s volunteer position is as the volunteer coordinator and also the manager of the “toy shop.” The Toy Shop is a point of distribution that will require full-time management starting in November, when Families Helping Families will move its operation to a two-building warehouse donated by the South Carolina State Fair.
Aside from his commitment to the program, Blankenship is also committed to the families that are helping through this program. He has a notebook full of names and telephone number of people that he contacts throughout the year, “just to see if they are all right.” He has arranged for housing for people who are in need, he provides transportation, he acts as financial advisor and counselor. He does not admit to it, but it is suspected that he digs deep into his own pockets to help some of these families financially.
Blankenship has announced that after nine years with the Families Helping Families Christmas program, his family obligations have changed such that he will no longer be able to continue on the same level.