Gloomy economic times haven't kept Harford County residents from reaching out to those in need this holiday season.
So far, 1,876 families have been adopted by county residents through Neighbors in Need, a county Department of Social Services program that matches donors with families unable to provide food, clothes and Christmas gifts for children.
That number is up from the 1,700 families served last year, said Joy Rich, director of the volunteer program. Rich said she expects to match another 40 families with donors during the week before Christmas.
With the nation amid a recession and layoffs becoming more common, Rich said she was worried about finding donors this yuletide.
"I was quite concerned," she said. "We've had more requests (for help) than ever. We're getting requests from people who are not on public assistance but need help because their husband lost his job. We're hearing more and more from people who have received pink slips. It's really scary for these people who are not used to going without."
With the aid of churches, businesses and individuals, however, the demand has been met, she said.
"I guess I have personally found that Harford County is very generous," Rich said. "I've never had a need that couldn't be filled. People always seem to come through. If we make a plea, we usually have people who call and want to help."
Among those in need this year are Lewis and Thelma Preston and their four children, who live in a three-bedroom apartment in Edgewood.
"The kids are excited about Christmas," Thelma said. "They want toys but they're not fussy about what they get."
She said her husband was laid off from home-improvement contractor Egypt International last month. His unemployment compensation doesn't cover their rent and car insurance, which amount to more than $700 a month.
The Prestons and their children -- Oretha, 5; Tasha, 7; Erica, 8; and Kimberly, 14 -- benefited from Neighbors in Need during tough times last Christmas, too.
"It gave us a better Christmas," Thelma said, recalling that her children received toys, clothes, shoes, food and cookies from an anonymous benefactor last year.
There is an additional need in the Preston family this year, though.
Kimberly is 3-months pregnant and is in need of maternity clothes.
"We're having a hard time getting her things to wear," Thelma said.
Like the Prestons, many families have special needs, ranging from diapers to used furniture, Rich said. Special requests are listed on the applications families begin filling out in August. Rich begins matching donors and families in September.
With Christmas just a week away, Rich and her department are busy wrapping up promotions to collect more toys. Toys were collected yesterday at the Harford County Mall, where children were allowed free entry to a movie by donating a new toy or gift to Neighbors in Need.