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Growing number of families need Christmas help

Growing number of families need Christmas help
Growing number of families need Christmas help | We Care, Santa's Helpers, Santa's Village

Jimmy Freeman, Jim Gagen and James Yarbro help bag toys at Santa’s Workshop on Monday at the We Care Christmas Shop.
A local factory shutdown and laid-off employees have added to the growing number of people across the county seeking assistance. While the season of giving climaxes in less than one week, area families are faced with the fear of not being able to fulfill their children’s holiday wishes or the dinner table on Christmas Day. Agencies who provide year-round help to those in need across the county are working double duty to meet the cries for help during their busiest times of year. Lou Ann Powers, director of Santa’s Helpers in Dresden, said the phone calls and office visits are still coming as she looks ahead to more days of holiday shopping. This week alone, Powers reported almost 30 parents have reached out asking for help to provide a toy for their child on Christmas Day. “This year, the requests have been pretty reasonable. The children haven’t asked for a whole lot and we have been able to get most of what they want. We have seen a lot of new faces this year, and I still have people coming in signing up for help. I have more shopping ahead of me,” Powers said. She said she had thought this year the number of people asking for assistance would be large compared to last year, but that hasn’t been the case. Of some of the families who looked to Santa’s Helpers in 2007 during the Christmas season, Powers admitted she has not seen some of those families. With the help of area churches and a Toy Drive organized by Roadrunner Driving Academy, Powers and her staff have been able to stock the food pantry and get toys for last-minute requests. Betty Baker, director of We Care Ministries in Martin, is also reporting a very busy time of year for the local organization. Each year, We Care offers families in need the tradition of the “Christmas Shop.” Monday kicked off the opening day of the Christmas store with families and volunteers filling the parking lot. The system that allows parents to “shop” without their children present is an organized effort that actually begins with a request for help in October. We Care’s Thrift Store becomes transformed within a matter of days before the Christmas shop opens. Volunteers spend hours guiding parents throughout the store allowing them to get five articles of clothing for each child, a jacket, a pair of shoes, four toys, books, stuffed animals, stockings and school supplies. The cost is $1 for each child. Parents also receive a bag of groceries and four “freebies” for themselves. As Minnie Hazlewood explained, throughout the Christmas shop, volunteers serve as floaters, stockers and baggers while the Martin Fire Department helps “carry-out” the items to a family’s car. Thus far, almost 700 children will be getting toys and clothes this year from the We Care Christmas Shop, and Baker was still taking applications from families on Monday. Without the help of local volunteers, Baker said there is no possible way those needs would be met for those looking for help. “This community is great. We have a need and they respond. None of this is possible without the many volunteers that come in and help us,” Baker stressed. Faced with budget restraints this year and a limited staff, Lottie Cooper of the Northwest Tennessee Economic Develop-ment Council in Dresden said she had the misfortune of turning people away in need of help this season. “Right now I have 63 kids, but I could’ve had 100. I just couldn’t take them,” Cooper said. For the last several years, Cooper and her crew have offered a Christmas party with food and a visit from Santa, who gives gifts to each of the children. Cooper’s office has suffered significant budget cuts this year. With the help of local fund-raising efforts, the program will offer just as much during the annual Christmas party as it has in the past, but to fewer children. The party is planned for Monday night. Cooper said she plans to keep the office open on Dec. 23 for families seeking last-minute help. Her goal is to distribute everything that she has collected before Christmas.

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