By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
Local charities that distribute toys and food to families in need are experiencing some need of their own this Christmas season.
Representatives from two of these organizations — the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the Sister Visitor Center — say requests for food and gift donations began arriving early this year. Linda Romine, the director of communications for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, said the staff at the agency was surprised by the increase in requests for food. “We knew the need was up but were not expecting the volume of calls so early,” she said.
Last year St. Vincent de Paul handed out 420 round laundry baskets filled with everything a family would need to make a holiday dinner, including a turkey or ham. This year they have increased the number to 500. “We serve as many as we can but we didn’t want to promise more than we can deliver,” she added.
Romine said the need is just stunning. “The food stamps cut has hit a lot of our clients particularly hard. Even small cuts in the amount of food stamps a family receives makes a big impact in how they can provide for their family. That means they are utilizing our Open Hand Kitchen more,” she said. Romine said normally the kitchen serves 10,000 meals each month. In October they served 12,000 meals and they expect the same amount for November.
To those who would like to contribute food to the society’s efforts, suggested items for the holiday baskets are stuffing mix, potatoes, canned vegetables such as green beans and sweet potatoes, macaroni and cake mixes. Volunteers also are needed to help sort the canned goods and to assemble the holiday food baskets on Dec. 14 at 9 a.m. at the Open Hand Kitchen. The St. Vincent de Paul Santa Shop also is in need of toy and clothing donations. The shop is open to families who have been pre-selected by St. Vincent de Paul to pick out gifts for their children.
Last year the Santa Shop helped 223 families — a total of 723 children. This year the goal is to assist 300 families, Romine said. Some suggested items needed for the Santa Shop for boys ages 11 to 16 are: jeans, belts, long-sleeved shirts, basketballs, backpacks, iTunes gift cards, socks, flannel pajama pants and shoes. Needed items for girls 11 to 16 are blouses, bath robes, sleepwear, makeup, purses, wallets, DVDs, jackets and sweatshirts. Suggested items for infants to age 10 are play clothes, board games, action figures, push toys, arts and crafts supplies, books and dolls. Romine noted that there are often not enough items for teenage girls and some teens need adult, plus-size clothing. All ages need scarves, hats and gloves.
Local churches and schools have already been a source of tremendous help, Romine noted. St. Gabriel Church plans to host a “Breakfast with Santa” for children who live in housing on the St. Vincent de Paul campus. St. Albert the Great parish, with the help of parishioner Pat Osbourn, donated $4,200 to support the Thanksgiving Day meal hosted at the Open Hand Kitchen, Romine said.
Romine also said that a group from Southeast Christian Church delivered baskets with food and some household supplies that are not covered by SNAP (formerly called the Food Stamp program) to the 32 families who live in the St. Vincent de Paul apartments.
Non-perishable food items may be dropped off at the Open Hand Kitchen, 1026 S. Jackson Street, by Dec. 7. Unwrapped toys and clothing items for the Santa Shop can be dropped off by Dec. 11 at the St. Vincent de Paul’s administrative building, 1015-C S. Preston Street. Businesses may contact Donna Young by phone at 301-8688 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a pickup of Santa Shop donations.
*This story was updated to include the reschedule times for the St. Vincent de Paul holiday food basket assembling.