Something under the treeChristmas assistance programs help parents give children a great day
Most people greet the holidays with a sense of excitement and good cheer, but for some parents, this time of year is a source of worry and stress, wondering if they will be able to afford to give their children anything on Christmas morning.
It’s a question no parent should have to face, said Lisa James, executive director of Haywood Christian Ministry. Fortunately, there are plenty of generous individuals willing to help ensure every child has something under the tree on Christmas morning.
Haywood Christian Ministry teams up with the Haywood County Department of Social Services to gather information on which families need help. The Salvation Army used to participate in the effort, but has done its own campaign for the past several years.
For James, HCM’s effort, Project Christmas Love, isn’t about getting children the latest toy or some expensive gadget as a gift, it’s really all about giving a child happy Christmas memories.
“Christmas is such a tremendous part of a child’s life. If we can work to give them a good one, we should,” she said. “This is such a big, worthwhile thing.”
Besides providing gifts to bring some joy to a family for Christmas, Project Christmas Love shows people that they are cared about, which is an important message.
“Part of what we’re here for is to show the love of Christ to people,” she said. “People do care about them, and that can come in many different forms.”
HCM has brought together a large number of entities, including churches, civic groups, schools and businesses to pull off Project Christmas Love.
Applications are accepted earlier in the year, and once HCM determines a family qualifies for assistance, information on the children's age, sizes and any special requested toy is gathered. Then tags with the age, sex and needed or wished for items are created for distribution throughout the county.
People interested in helping can pick up a tag and buy some or all of the items listed.
“We ask people to buy the child some clothes and to buy them a toy, but mostly just buy whatever you can (afford),” James said.
DSS works to collect funds and toys for additional help, and the agency will provide toys for children whose tags do not get taken from the tree displays.
"We handle mostly the toy side of it," said Jennifer Mason, an adult services supervisor at DSS who also helps with Project Christmas Love. "I take tags that aren't collected, and I go to Walmart and try to get what's on the tag."
DSS receives money from fund-raising events such as toy runs to help the effort, and since DSS and HCM serve so many of the same people, the partnership helps to prevent duplication of services and make sure no one in need is missed.
"I think it's a very rewarding program," Mason said. "They're able to have something for (their children) because of this project. It's a good feeling to know that because of this program that all of the children we help will have a present under the tree."
On Dec. 19, families participating in the program can come to First Methodist Church in Waynesville to pick up the donated clothing and toys, and HCM also provides a few extras that parents can pick out for their children.
This year 235 children will be helped through Project Christmas Love.
“We’re grateful to the community for all their support. Without them, we would not be able to do what we do,” James said.
The local Salvation Army office offers its own Christmas program called the Angel Tree Program in Haywood and the six other Western North Carolina counties.
In previous years, the Salvation Army worked closely with the HCM-social services effort, but Captain Roland Cox said organization-wide regulation changes made to protect clients’ privacy meant they could no longer collaborate with HCM and other organizations on the Angel Tree Program.
“These changes have been implemented to reduce the exposure of client’s personal information. The Salvation Army does provide a ‘clearing house’ list of names only to other agencies to curb and reduce duplication of services,” Cox explained.
Other changes have been made to separate the Angel Tree Program more from other community efforts because some of the Salvation Army’s donor base was concerned that financial resources were being reallocated to other agencies.
“Our donors want to ensure that their dollars and in-kind gifts are being used by the Salvation Army and its programs,” Cox said. “Collaboration continues through the ‘clearing house’ list, which the majority of agencies accepts and partner graciously with us to ensure community resources are used to the fullest.”
James said HCM "works back and forth" with the Salvation Army, local schools and other agencies to both provide a list of those receiving help from them and to check with the the other agencies.
"We make sure we're not duplicating (services)," she said.
Much of the funding for the Angel Tree Program comes from the well-known red kettle drive that goes on throughout the holiday season. Last year the kettles raised $110,000 in Haywood County, and in addition to filling in extra needs for the Angel Tree program, the money helped to provide families with seasonal assistance for food, rent and utilities to the tune of more than $42,000.
The Salvation Army follows the national organization's blueprint of using 86 cents out of every dollar donated for programs and direct services to individuals. At Haywood Christian Ministry, 83 cents out of every dollar goes to serve clients.
The Angel Trees work similarly to HCM’s Project Christmas Love, with families applying for help providing Christmas gifts and clothing for their children. The program also provides assistance to seniors age 65 and above and the disabled.
“We have nursing homes that we visit, and we take them gifts and that’s also in the seven counties,” said Maria Perez, secretary at the Haywood Salvation Army office.
Tags are placed on Christmas trees at participating businesses all over Haywood County, and people can pick up a tag and purchase the listed items to donate.
Last year, the Salvation Army assisted with 197 cases for a total of 539 people, and this year, the number of applications has increased to 218 cases of 625 individuals.
Perez said the increase is probably because of the economy and more people hearing about the program.
“I would definitely say the economy has a big play in it, and we’ve publicized it a little more so more people know about it,” she said.
Angel Tree Donations can be dropped off at the location of the tree where the tag was picked up or at the Salvation Army office.
“I think it truly means the world to our families because the people that we help have no other resources,” Perez said.
While the Salvation Army offers assistance in many forms, she said the Angel Tree Program is “special for the kids and seniors.”
Where to go
To participate in Project Christmas Love, stop by these locations to pick up a tag:
Mountain 1st Bank, Sagebrush, First Methodist Church of Waynesville, Ken Wilson Ford, Dr. John Highsmith’s office, Laurel Ridge Country Club, Belk’s and St. Margaret’s Catholic Church in Maggie Valley.
To participate in the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree Program stop by the following locations to select a tag:
Bojangle’s, Copper Leaf Café, Hometrust Bank of Waynesville, Laurel Ridge, Mast General Store, Nationwide Insurance, Smoky Mountain Eye Care, the post office, and Walmart.