The $7.50 an hour Charles Glaser earns driving a propane truck never provided extravagant Christmas presents for his wife and son.
But with the unexpected burden of thousands of dollars in medical bills for a back injury this year, Glaser had to ask for help from the Neighbors in Need program to have any kind of holiday, he said.
"It has been totally devastating," the 42-year-old Taneytown man said of the past year, in which the injury put him out of work for seven months and plunged him into debt.
The Glasers are among 730 families this year asking for help through Neighbors in Need, a clearinghouse for area groups and individuals who want to buy food and presents for Carroll families during Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Last year, 583 families asked for help, said Lynda Gainor, deputy director of the non-profit Human Services Programs Inc., which coordinates 4-year-old Neighbors in Need.
Gainor attributed the increase in the number of families being helped to the faltering economy. More two-parent families, like the Glasers, are struggling to make ends meet, she said, and an unexpected setback can set them reeling financially.
The year has been "a long hard struggle," Glaser said, but he's walking again and returned to work last month.
He and his wife, Debra, an aide at Westminster Nursing Home, are trying to catch up on the $7,000 in medical bills left unpaid by his health insurance and the $1,000 in back rent their understanding landlady let them defer, he said.
"We're both working full-time to try to straighten ourselves out financially, if it's possible," Glaser said.
As the holidays approached, their son, Christopher, 13, had begun asking for Christmas gifts the family couldn't afford, Glaser said.
"We're not too proud to ask for help," he said. "We realize what our limitations are, and when you need help, that's it."
Glaser said he and his wife knew of the Neighbors program through other people who have gotten help.
He said his son has had to accept that the holiday will be leaner this year. The family is asking mostly for clothes, he said.
"He didn't like the idea, but we just told him, 'We can only do so much for you,' " Glaser said.
Neighbors in Need has extended its helping hand to many other families that need assistance in making the holidays brighter.
The vast room that once housed Leggett department store at 10 Distillery Drive again was filled with clothes and toys and other Christmas presents last week -- but no cash registers.
Everything was given away between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Wednesday, when 360 families came at their appointed times to get the boxes.
Another 400 families were "adopted" by churches, groups of office workers and other organizations and individuals. By adopting a family, donors agree to purchase food for a holiday dinner and gifts for the family's children.
Gainor said the amount spent to adopt a family ranged from $50 to $500.
"This woman called and said, 'I only have $500 to spend.' I said, 'Excuse me, I don't think I heard you correctly,' " Gainor said. "Five hundred dollars will take care of a family amply."
Families that weren't adopted received presents and food through donations by various groups and individuals. Volunteers sorted the goods into boxes and noted any needed items, Gainor said. They made runs to area stores Tuesday night for clothes, toys, underwear or whatever was needed, such as batteries for toys.
Money to fill those gaps came from $800 in donations that arrived too late for use last Christmas, about $200 donated this season and a lot of credit, Gainor said.
"This is a big faith project," she said. "You have to have faith you'll fill the baskets, faith that volunteers will help fill them, and faith that you'll have enough money to pay for the turkeys."
As in previous years, the agency counts on donations this week to make up for what the agency has to spend to get the parcels to people, Gainor said.
"If we don't get donations, then it will be Human Services Programs' responsibility to go out and solicit donations," she said.
Among the highlights of the program this holiday season:
* In addition to buying 200 chickens and other food to distribute through Neighbors in Need, the Carroll County unit of the Salvation Army also has prepared gifts for 105 people in the addictions programs of the Carroll County Health Department; given gift certificates to 89 foster children in the county; and conducted a caroling party for more than 28 children of low-income families, said Chairman John Green.
* Northeast Social Action Program is donating 200 turkeys to Neighbors in Need. Also, the Northeast Carroll County Ministerial Alliance, which supports NESAP, has formed a network to connect families in need with church-based charities in Northeast Carroll.
* While several seniors were among those receiving help, others donated their warming handiwork -- hats, mittens, mufflers and slippers. The Finksburg Senior Center presented a few dozen items to the Neighbors program.