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EARLIER: Charities hope to meet growing need this holiday season

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By Laura Clark

When applications for the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program began pouring in, Chairperson Bonnie Roberts said she quickly realized she wouldn't have enough room on the trees for all the angels.  

She has 815 children being adopted in Shelby County, up from 558 last year. The Angel Tree program works through area schools to find children who otherwise would not have a special Christmas.  

Children are "adopted" by individuals or groups who provide gifts or money for gifts, as in the case of teenagers. The applications poured in over eight days in October.  

So Roberts and her 7-person committee made several calls early to local churches asking for help. Churches in areas such as Waddy and Simpsonville pitched in to adopt children in their immediate communities.  

"They have been really gracious about taking care of children in their area," Roberts said. "At this point I feel like we'll provide for all of the children."  

There are still about 150 unadopted children on trees at Walmart, Goody's and Commonwealth Bank, where Roberts works.   

 With rising under- and unemployment this year, the need in Shelby County is greater than ever, and local charities that help families have a special Christmas are hoping they'll be able to help everyone. Organizations that help during the holidays range from churches to local businesses and clubs.

"It's a huge community effort," said Louise Riley, organizer of Christmas at Claudia's. "Money's down a little bit, but we're going to hope it all comes together."  

Last year Christmas at Claudia's served meals to 1,550 people, and Riley said about the same number are expected this year, including 750 to 1,000 children.

“We thought about cutting back, but when we saw the need..." Riley said, referring to the economy's impact on Claudia's as well as local businesses who usually sponsor the event.  

She said Christmas at Claudia's still needs volunteers, monetary donations, which are handled by Operation Care, and books for teens. Riley also needs to collect more hats, gloves and mittens from infant to adult sizes.  

She has maybe 100 cold-weather items so far. Children will also receive gifts of toys, teddy bears and hygiene items.

 

Some programs doing OK   

The Reading Reindeer program also provides a book to children at Christmas. Library Director Pam Federspiel said donations are on track to provide for all the children in the program, which works through the Shelby County school system to reach kids.  

"Every year people step up for this program because they realize how important reading is in a child's life," Federspiel said.  

She added that instead of the library staff giving gifts among themselves this year, they'll be donating to the Shop with a Cop program.  

The Salvation Army Mission isn't in charge of a Christmas dinner but was able to fulfill the need at Thanksgiving, serving about 120 people. Director Rhonda Gillman said donations have been up for the clothing closet and food pantry, where every item is free.  

"I think this time of year just brings out the giving in people, whether they have it or not," she said.  

People will often come to the closet to do a little Christmas shopping themselves.  

"Regardless of how we view homeless people, they still have [families] that they think about during the holidays," Gillman said. "And we try to meet that need, that they're able to share."

 

Open Door needs items   

Jacob's Well Ministry will be giving out between 25 and 30 Christmas baskets, containing stuffed toys for the children, a whole turkey or ham, milk, eggs, bread, cookies and canned goods.  

Connie Kelly, founder of Jacob's Well Ministry, said she has most of the can goods, three hams and two turkeys so far.  

"Could I use them? Yes," she said. "The things we put in last, like eggs, I do not have."  

Kelly is confident that the community will help meet Open Door of Hope's needs.  

"It's just people who see a need and fill it," she said. "I have to count on the Lord to bring it in, and he does."

 

Scrimping to meet needs   

So many needs in the community during the holidays come in a year when all charities are scrimping to provide.  

The Salvation Army’s kettle donations – those omnipresent bell-ringing Santas at Walmart, Kroger and Smith-McKinney – help to provide for the unadopted Angel Tree children during the holidays and other families throughout the year.   

Roberts said funds are already low this year because the Salvation Army spends about $3,000 to $4,000 a month in Shelby County helping families pay for food, medicine and utilities.  

"I'm hoping we can get through another year with the funds we collect every weekend until Christmas," Roberts said. "I doubt very seriously that we're going to end up with enough for this year. We may have to do something later in the year."