"I had a lot of early calls, in September and October," Thornton said. "I see needs are up a third over last year."
During the year Thornton does what he can to help families in dire straights. A few months back he ran a raffle on some sports items to raise a few hundred dollars to help a family move after getting flooded out of their home.
But Christmas is really his time, a task he has been doing since 1978. Thornton works with Crosslines to address needs, concentrating on toys for children, while Crosslines offers help on more substantial issues.
Families in need of help this Christmas can contact Thornton at 236-0222. Messages should be left on his answering machine. Those with donation items can contact him as well.
"I knew it was going to be rough," Thornton said. "In Monett we're really fortunate to be in as good a shape as we are. Towns in the outer circle are the ones that are really hurting. That's where the bottom really fell out. It's going to be one difficult Christmas. We're going to progress. We'll get through it."
Regular support Thornton counts on has been there again this year. He said area bikers got together for the annual Toy Ride and donated a good supply of gift items. Employees at EFCO and Jack Henry and Associates are presently holding toy drives to stock Santa's workshop.
At this time of year, donations go out almost as fast as they come in. Thornton had 30 families he was preparing to help last week. He expected to fill orders up to the Wednesday before Christmas at which time he will shift into preparations for what will be his 25th annual Christmas dinner at the American Legion Home in Monett on Christmas day.
Thornton has been securing major meat donations for weeks. He got a full beef last week to add to three deer. He expected to have 16 different meats this year, from pheasant and turkey to raccoon, fish and meat loaves.
Donations of chicken from Tyson Foods and cheese from Schreiber Foods will again help. A food drive from Dairy Farmers of America this year will also assist the effort.
"My servers and cooks have been notified," Thornton said. "We take volunteers all day long. Some can only work for two or three hours. That's fine. If you've got an hour to spare, we'll be glad to have you. Or make a day of it. We always make it work. We'll be just as busy as we can be."
Thornton's dinner is designed as an old-fashioned Christmas. The gathering is especially geared toward those who enjoy company but don't have any at home, or enjoy a traditional meal but cannot cook that much for one or two. Those whose resources would not provide a comparable experience are especially welcome.
Last year Thornton figured the undertaking provided 765 meals and 217 carryouts.
Thornton is always encouraging others to come. He recalled some Hispanic ladies almost left last year, afraid that they weren't welcome seeing few other Hispanics there. He insisted that they stay and they had a good time.
The key to the dinner, Thornton said, is "You've got to know what to do and when to do it. It's got to happen then. I know how to do that."
Thornton expected to have some fresh Christmas decorations for the hall this year and have everything ready for the big day. He still makes a few personal appearances as Santa Claus and will be visiting the children at the Barry-Lawrence Development Center on Dec. 17.
Thornton stressed he has been able to take care of people in the area by remaining independent, not taking donations with strings attached. He wanted to be able to help a family 26 miles away if necessary and not be bound by a 25-mile limit.
"We've got a lot of ground to cover. The rest of it will come in. We're looking good," Thornton added.