Murray, KY – A worsening economy has caused more families than ever to seek assistance from local charities this Christmas. This increased demand coupled with fewer incoming donations has caused the groups to struggle. Carrie Pond reports on how they stay optimistic as the season of giving reaps fewer rewards. -----------------------------------------------------------
Room-length tables fill the second floor of Murray's BB and T bank, overflowing with tea sets and checkerboards, coloring books and coats. Welcome to Santa's Workshop. Michelle Hanson is a coordinator for the Calloway County Family Resource Center. She says here at Santa's Workshop, staff and volunteers assemble gifts for the center's Santa Project, which provides Christmas gifts to Calloway County children in low-income families. Parents sign up for the program and supply a Christmas list for each of their children. Area residents then sponsor a child by purchasing the requested items. Hanson says the goal of the Santa Project is to remove non-educational barriers from the school environment.
"We want it to be that when kids come back to the classroom after Christmas break, everybody's on the same playing field and they can concentrate on how they're going to do on that math test instead of figuring out what to say when someone asks what they got for Christmas."
Hanson says this year enrollment in the program is up almost 150 kids from last year to about 750 children total. Of those, fewer than half have been sponsored. Volunteers will spend the next week pulling together gifts for the remaining children from items left at collection sites and the monetary donations taken in so far. Hanson says right now she's a little concerned because the center's received just over a third of the money needed to pay for all the children's presents.
"We're kind of holding back on buying things at this point just to kind of see where we stand. Hopefully some more monetary donations will be coming in that will allow us to purchase items for these kids."
She says the center will continue accepting money into the New Year to pay for bills accumulated purchasing gifts. Despite these difficulties, Hanson says the resource center is committed to helping any family that requests it.
"Especially for those families that maybe have jobs and are just at that line where they maybe can't get other support, but they're really trying hard. And so to be able to see those parents come and pick up their items from the Santa Project and be able to be their cheerleaders in a sense- that's what we really enjoy."
Local mother of four Sandra is one of those parents. Sandra requests we keep her last name private because her children don't know she participates in the project. Even on a drizzly day like this one, Sandra's home is cozy- her burgundy family room showcases a brightly lit Christmas tree with handmade ornaments. Sandra is a homemaker, but volunteers at a nearby school. She says even though her husband's job pays well, Christmas is always hard.
"When you figure in car payment and the electric and propane, and insurance, and food for your family, it gives you like 195 dollars extra a month. And that's not including clothes or shoes or the dances at the school. And for four kids for Christmas, that doesn't really go very far."
She's been participating in the Santa project for more than 10 years, and says Christmas wouldn't be the same without it.
"When it comes down to, it really makes Christmas, because you can give little things but you know every parent wants to give their kids everything they can. I would be able to spend 50 or 60 dollars apiece you know at the best, but with them they can provide the toys and stuff that they need, that they want that maybe I couldn't."
Thanks to the Santa Project, Sandra's family will have a comfortable Christmas despite hard economic times. But other area organizations don't know if they can make the same guarantee this year. Angel Tree Coordinator for Paducah's Salvation Army Lisa Hawkingberry says more than 400 angels remain on the tree this year. She says the organization can support some of those children with toys left at collection centers at the city's Regions banks, but so far there are too few toys and too many children. The deadline for sponsoring an angel is Monday, December 15th. Despite seemingly dim hopes that all 400 angels will find sponsors, Hawkingberry says she has faith the community will pull through this year just as they have in the past. Michelle Hanson shares Hawkingberry's faith that people will respond.
"We believe in this community. We believe that God does special things through the Santa Project. And so we know that we can't meet every single need, because we recognize that gifts aren't going to take care of everything, but hopefully we can help that family be more stable as they go into the New Year."
But to families like Sandra's, what Hanson and the community give is more than just stuff.
"They really do this giving of their time and services all year long. And you see these ladies and you know that they have families of their own and they have children, but they come and they help you out and they volunteer and give their time. And that's what giving in this time of year means to me." For WKMS News, I'm Carrie Pond.