Girding for the season of giving Numbers of the needy expected to surpass 1997 holiday totals

November 18, 1998|By Jill Hudson Neal | Jill Hudson Neal,SUN STAFF

Around this time of year, Howard County churches and agencies that help the needy begin receiving calls asking where people can donate food and gift baskets in time for the holiday season.

Privately, some county social services workers say this kind of seasonal giving is appreciated but troublesome: Donations come fast and furious right after Halloween, but that generosity falls off precipitously shortly after the first of the year.

The Salvation Army Service Center in Ellicott City acts as a clearinghouse for donations throughout Howard County during the holiday season. Workers in the small office field thousands of calls this time of year from people who want to donate their time and services. Others call to see how their families can qualify for a food basket or gifts for their children.

Last year, nearly 1,500 people in Howard received food baskets and gifts from the Salvation Army between Thanksgiving and Christmas. In all, the Salvation Army aided 991 families, including 134 senior citizens, with food and gifts.

This year, the Salvation Army expects to help more families, says Connie Wise, director of the service center, which has already received 45 more requests this year for food for Thanksgiving than it did last year. Wise says she expects to see the same at Christmas.

"There's definitely a greater need for this kind of aid this year than last year," Wise says. "We're seeing more families this year who've had a mother or father who's been laid off from work or who've had a change in their welfare benefits status. But it

definitely seems like people are a little worse off this year."

But an increase in need will surely be followed by a similar increase in donations, Wise says. "Howard County residents have been very supportive, and if anything, I would think they'll rise to the occasion once they find out we need more help."

The Salvation Army receives names of people who need assistance from the county Department of Social Services and the Board of Education. In addition, local fraternal organizations, churches, banks and small businesses call with offers of help and names of people who need help.

Some people just call out of the blue and say they want to do something, anything.

"Some people call us up wanting to donate food, clothing, money, toys, whatever," says Wise. "We can either give them the name and address of a needy family or -- if the donor wants to be anonymous -- they can bring the stuff here and we'll distribute it."

Many organizations elect to "adopt" one or more families during the holidays. Last year, for example, members of Bethany United Methodist Church in Ellicott City adopted 12 needy families and delivered baskets containing a turkey and other foods a few days before Thanksgiving.

One of the Salvation Army's biggest supporters, Southwest Airlines, provides volunteers to distribute food baskets and toys. The company also purchases Christmas toys for more than 200 children and, says Southwest aircraft mechanic Curtis Atkins, provides supplies for Howard County children returning to school and those who attend summer camp.

Atkins says, "It's kind of hard to pin down why we want to give things away at this time of year. People feel grateful for everything they have, especially now, and they want to share that. Especially with the children."

But Stacey Casella, director of the Columbia Academy Preschool, which collects food from its pupils during the holidays, says more of an effort should be made to solicit donations the rest of the year.

The emphasis on giving is always placed on the holiday season, Casella says. "We would like to make donations, but they've never told us that they needed anything any other time," she says of the Salvation Army. "I don't know how much they take."

Lou Weckesser of Bethany United Methodist Church says the spirit of giving can last throughout the year.

"If people come to our church, I'm sure we can come up with some suggestions for ways that they can help out," Weckesser says. "We have a lot of opportunities for people if they put their minds to it."

Pub Date: 11/18/98

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