It's not too late to help the less fortunate at Christmas

December 05, 2011

This is my favorite time of year. I love everything Christmas – Santa, carols, TV specials – and the generally happy mood it creates.

I try not to get bogged down with the stress of buying gifts – what for whom, etc. – and just try to enjoy it all. I look forward to spending time with my family, to seeing my son's face when he sees what Santa has left him under the tree (my 1-year-old daughter doesn't get it yet).

This year my husband and I are getting to see Christmas through the eyes of a child, and we love it. Henry is all about the dancing Christmas decorations, the houses all lit up with lights and adorned with blowup snowmen and Santas. He loved "Rudolph" and wants to play with the "abomible" snowman. He knows Santa is watching and that he better be good. He'll also tell you, at any random time, that you have to be good, too, because Santa is watching.

We ask him what he wants Santa to bring him for Christmas. He wants a police truck and the game Pop the Pig. Santa may oblige. (There are times when he's doing something bad he'll say he doesn't want Santa to bring him anything.)

But while he's enjoying the idea of Santa and presents, we're also trying to teach him that we have to help other little kids have a happy Christmas.

Not everyone is as lucky as he is to get lots of Christmas presents from Santa. Some little boys and girls may go to bed Christmas Eve wondering if Santa will stop at their house. We want to make sure he does.

We went shopping the other day and Henry picked out a toy for a boy from him (a noisy fire truck) and a toy for a girl from Emily (a baby doll). We kept explaining that not every boy and girl can get lots and lots of presents from Santa, so we were helping those families. If you ask him who the fire truck is for, he'll tell you "a boy who needs it."

They'll be donated to The Aegis Empty Stocking Fund through my brother's company, Compton Financial Group, which hosts a cocktail party for its clients and asks guests to bring a toy.

There are so many other ways to help out the families that need it.

Mason Dixon Community Services coordinates a majority of the giving in Harford County, working closely with The Aegis Empty Stocking Fund, the Salvation Army, the Harford County Sheriff's Office and the Adopt-a-Family program.

Besides managing the Adopt-a-Family program, matching donor families with those in need through churches, individuals or other groups, Mason Dixon maintains the holiday giving list, to ensure every client is being taken care of.

"We have a very collaborative effort in Harford County, that's why we're faring a little better," Terrie Perry, community outreach coordinator for Mason-Dixon Community Services, said. "We want to reach every need but we don't want to replicate services."

"Harford County is extremely generous and everyone wants to help. Unfortunately there is a great deal of need … and we want to make sure everybody who receives help gets it from only one agency," Perry said.

Through it's adopt-a-family program, Mason-Dixon matches families in need with various groups, including St. Margaret Church in Bel Air, Havre de Grace Elks, the Edgewood Community Association and Bel Air United Methodist Church, in addition to individuals who want to help out a family at the holidays.

Most of the items have already been collected through the various agencies and will be given out this weekend or next, so the families have what they need by Christmas. But it's not too late for procrastinators like me to help.

Just like Perry gets last-minute calls for people wanting to donate, she also gets last-minute calls for people who need help, so she'll try and make that match where it's possible, just as she did Monday morning.

She and Mason-Dixon Executive Director Barbara Richardson also suggested donating items that can be used year-round, like soap, toiletries or household cleaning products.

"People have Christmas on the brain," Perry said. "But we tell them to think about the things people need, not necessarily for Christmas, but for January, February or March."

For those who really want to make a Christmas donation, Richardson said monetary donations are always helpful. Also, Toys for Tots is still accepting donations, and food and other items can always be dropped off at any of Harford's food pantries. Mason-Dixon also will take donations of "odd things we can always use" – hats, gloves, mittens and personal care items.

Mason-Dixon's goal is to provide help to those in need, not self promotion.

"If we can provide, that's all that matters. It doesn't matter who helps them," Perry said.

To lend a last-minute hand during the holiday season, email Mason-Dixon Community Services, holidaygivingprogram@gmail.com or info@mason-dixion.org.

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