Sponsors needed to help 180 families through the holidays

December 21, 1992|By Deidre Nerreau McCabe | Deidre Nerreau McCabe,Staff Writer

Only four days before Christmas and Christine Poulsen is getting frantic. But she isn't worried about finishing her shopping or holiday greeting cards.

Ms. Poulsen, director of the county's Holiday Sharing Program, is fretting over how to match 180 needy county families with sponsors who can provide gifts and food before time runs out on Christmas Eve.

"We have more to match than we usually have at this point," she said. "Generally by now, we'd have 60 to 80 families left to match. So we have a lot of work to do."

Ms. Poulsen, who works with 20 volunteers from the auxiliary to the Anne Arundel County Medical Society, said she is coming up short this year because of the record number of families -- 2,800 -- who have asked for help.

Last year, for example, there were 2,300 requests, which, until now, had been the record in the 13-year-old program's history.

"A lot more people are asking for help this year who may not have had to ask in the past," said Ms. Poulsen, who has seen the number of families needing help double during her five-year tenure.

The problem is compounded, she said, because many people who participated in the program in past years may fear that they can't afford it this year. But Ms. Poulsen said sponsors don't have to take on a large financial burden to help out in the program.

"People can sponsor just a single adult who needs only food," she said. "Or they can sponsor a smaller family -- a parent and one child."

The program also accepts cash donations, she said, which will be used to purchase gift certificates for local grocery and department stores. The certificates will be used for families who do not have sponsors by Thursday afternoon.

Right now, the program has enough money to buy certificates for several dozen needy families. But it cannot come close to taking care of all of the families that still need help. So Ms. Poulsen hopes to appeal to county residents to pitch in and offer whatever they can.

Program workers like to provide at least enough food or a gift certificate for food to cover a holiday meal and one gift for each child. Additional gifts of clothing or toys for the children and gifts for the parents are considered extras, she said.

"A sponsor can do as much or as little as they want," Ms. Poulsen said. "They could do just food, or just toys or clothes. We can match a family with more than one donor."

Most families served by the program are on public assistance, she said, and generally are single parents with as many as three children. Other families have been referred by county agencies or organizations, such as the Department of Social Services and the Salvation Army. Some recipients are single adults on medical assistance.

All have been cross-referenced on the Department of Social Services computer system to determine need and make sure they are being sponsored by only one organization, she said.

Since Nov. 1, when state benefits were cut to families with dependant children and to individuals on medical assistance, getting money together for Christmas has become even more difficult for many, said Ms. Poulsen.

"A family of three used to get $407 a month, but as of Nov. 1, they get $359," she said.

Ms. Poulsen said donors are a combination of individuals, school and community groups and businesses. New sponsors can be matched with a family over the phone right up until Thursday, she said.

For more information, call (410) 974-8711, Monday through Thursday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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