A local nonprofit organization is trying to create a merry Christmas for more than 3,000 needy children in Charles County but volunteers need a lot of help from the community to pull the effort off this year because of the rough economy.
The Children's Aid Society in Waldorf is struggling again this year to collect enough monetary contributions and toy donations to help put some cheer in a needy child's life on Christmas morning with the Christmas Connection program, said Maria Bryan, the organization's executive director. Donations are down and the distribution of gifts at the National Guard Armory in La Plata is only a few weeks away, she said.
"There are more families in need this year," she said, adding that the organization targets about 3,000 kids a year to participate in the program. "We're at a conundrum. What do we want to do? Take on more families and give less gifts or take less families and give more gifts? It's just an uncomfortable situation to have to make that call."
Bryan said normally the organization collects between $500 and $1,000 in November from the community at the St. Charles Towne Center mall in Waldorf but this year monetary donations are down to $300 so far. Toy donations have also slightly decreased, she said.
"We usually collect between two and three trash bags filled with toys in November at the mall but so far this year we've only received two shopping bag-sized bags," she said. "Donations are way down."
There are more families who are struggling to survive this year because of the recession, including many donors who once used to participate in the program, Bryan said.
"We've got families who are not used to asking for help; now they're out of work, lost their homes and they need money," she said.
"The economy has had an impact on the program," said Patricia Santee, assistant to the CAS executive director. "It has created the potential for more need in the community. People who were donors last year may be recipients this year."
The more than 1,000 families who will receive gifts through the Christmas Connection program are selected from the Charles County Department of Social Services rolls, Santee said. All of the children who receive gifts live in Charles County, she said.
"The success of the Christmas Connection is dependent upon donors' gifts and the volunteers," she said. "They dictate to our success because they give us the ability to give needy children in Charles County gifts for Christmas."
Gifts for infants 2 and younger and teens are always the most difficult to obtain, Santee said. The organization is seeking businesses, individuals and agencies to hold toy drives and teen gift drives to help fill the gap in those gift items.
Ideal donated gifts for teens include CDs, DVDs, CD holders, televisions, books, MP3 players, cell phone accessories, sports equipment, arts and crafts kits, hair items such as hairdryers and curling irons and gift certificates for bowling, movies, ice skating, haircuts or manicures, Santee said.
"If you can only give one or two gifts to a needy child that may be the only gifts that he or she will get for Christmas," Bryan said. "That can really make a difference in a child's life."
People can also donate filled stockings for children or sign up to purchase, assemble and deliver Christmas dinner baskets to senior citizens who live in the county, Santee said, adding it is estimated that between 150 and 200 seniors are targeted to receive baskets.
In addition, about 250 low-income people from 18 to 60 who have no dependent children but who receive services from social services are also in need of food baskets for Christmas, Santee said. Last year, 450 food baskets were distributed during the Christmas season, she said.
The organization will set up for the distribution of gifts from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 11 at the armory, Santee said, and preselected families will be able to choose gifts for their children from 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Dec. 14, 15 and 17.
Gift distribution is also set from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Dec. 18, Santee said.
"There are multiple ways that people can contribute to Christmas Connection," she said. "There are many needy families in the county who may not have a Christmas but through the generosity of the public."
"It's important to support our own community, to give locally," Bryan said. "There's no need to give across the county line when you've got children who are in need in your own backyard."