Thursday, December 10, 2015

Christmas Angel program continues as new organization

Employees at Cash Express sort Hats and Gloves.
Christmastime provides more opportunities for giving than any other time of year. So many, in fact, that it’s easy to miss the really important ones in the face of such a daunting list.
That’s why groups like Webster County Caring for Neighbors exist. The organization is new, but the cause they are working toward this December isn’t.

Christmas Angel provides the opportunity for people to “adopt” children in the community who are in need of clothes.

The program was under the auspices of Webster County Public Schools until this year. For many Christmases, the Family Resource Center in Dixon headed up the effort. But when the office lost funding for supplemental staff, the program was in jeopardy.
That’s when a number of private citizens stepped in.

Stephanie Brown, Caring for Neighbors Providence chair, said it has been a roller coaster ride, but one that has been well worth it.

“We started in September, so we were really pressed for time,” she said. “At first, it was overwhelming.”

Everything seemed to fall into place fairly quickly, Brown explained, mostly because so little of the process has been changed.

“We are still in partnership with the schools,” she said. “The applications were handed out at parent-teacher conferences, and the process is the same. We tried to change as little as possible.”

Caring For Neighbors steering committee chair Rev. Brian Small explained keeping the connection with the schools has been an advantage.

“Not only did we have to get the word out to the public, but we had to gain their trust,” he explained. “I think working with representatives of the Webster County Schools has helped make this transition smother.”

According to Small, the number of sign-ups were down from last year, but he expects that to rebound once families learn more about how the new group will conduct the program.
The number of children who qualified this year is just over 300.

In the past, to qualify for Christmas Angel, familes had to be on the free or reduced lunch program through the school system. Now, parents must provide a proof of income, and the family income must fall below the povery level. For a typical family of four, that is just under $24,000 annually.

“The program is based on need,” Brown pointed out. “And we want parents to trust in the confidentiality. Only the individual community chairs know the names.”
The other chairs include Belinda Wright in Sebree,  Glenda Townsend in Slaughters, and Melea Ramin in Dixon.

According to Small, the response has been very gratifying to the fledgling organization.
“I think the response has been very good,” he said. “All of the children who were signed up to receive assistance have been sponsored. You can’t ask for any more than that! I think we had an expectation that the people of Webster County would respond, and they have not disappointed.”

A number of businesses also stepped in to provide aid.

Employees from Dotiki Mines spent two days shopping for a variety of clothes items. Armed with ages and sizes alone, they gathered at Wal-Mart in Madisonville to purchase items. The wives of several miners gathered to wrap the gifts.

Dotiki has also partnered with Happy Feet of Webster County to provide coats for the drive.
Cash Express in Providence donated 150 pair of gloves and mittens.

Lesa Nance-Faughender from Initial Outfitters donated a large number of scarves after hearing of the mitten drive.

“We know that many Webster County businesses have been generous in the past with the Angel Tree program,” Small said. “Once they learned that Webster County Caring for Neighbors was taking over the program, they stepped right up as they have in the past.”
Small added they have also gotten a good response from many churches in the county through adoptions and donations.

While the program is focused primarily on clothes, Brown said a small toy may be included in each package. The typical package cost for each adopted child is between $50 and $75, but depends solely on the shoppers’ discretion.

Even though this is Caring for Neighbors’ first big project, Small sees more possibilities in the future.

“[W]e envision that in future years the organization may choose to expand its mission in serving the people of Webster County,” he explained. “For example, the organization may choose to help provide school supplies for low-income children.”

Caring for Neighbors has applied to become a non-profit organization, Small added. Currently, all funds are still being funneled through the school system. But by this time next year, he said, the group hopes to have its own account and able to receive direct donations.

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