Neighbors can brighten holidays for those in need

Donations of money, food, toys help community support itself, charity group says

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For more than 1,000 people in the south metro area, the food on the table at Thanksgiving or the presents under the tree at Christmas will come from the generosity of their neighbors.

More than 250 families, totaling 1,068 people, are signed up for the holiday program at Integrated Family Community Services — formerly Interfaith — the assistance agency that has kept bellies full and lights on for people in dire straits for decades.

The recipients come from a variety of backgrounds, said Sarah Rutledge, IFCS’ associate development director: single parents and their children, veterans, the elderly and disabled. A sizable majority have jobs, Rutledge said, but skyrocketing housing prices and stagnant wages have pushed them to the margins.

For people struggling to stay afloat, celebrating the holidays can be a vital respite, said Todd McPherson, IFCS’ outreach director.

“They’re looking for normalcy, to participate in the celebrations everyone around them are having,” McPherson said. “They want to show love to their kids. To have a reward at the end of a stressful year. We can all help them get there.”

“The goal here is to give people a hand up, not a hand out,” McPherson said. “The idea is, if we help you cover the holidays, you can save your money to put toward that car repair or that doctor bill hanging over your head.”

It’s a great way for the community to take care of itself, he said.

“We’re telling people in need that they matter, and that the community wants them to have better lives and overcome obstacles,” Mc Pherson said.

People who signed up for the holiday program will receive one box of food for Thanksgiving, and another for Christmas or other December holidays, McPherson said. Families also signed up to receive gifts.

For those in need who didn’t sign up by the deadline at the end of October, it’s not too late, McPherson said.

“Give us a call, and we’ll set you up with one of our case managers,” McPherson said.

For those who would like to pitch in, by far the best way is with a cash donation, McPherson said. Donors can also give gift cards, food items, or call to ask about volunteering opportunities.

People can also set up food drives at their workplaces, McPherson said, or ask their companies about matching charitable donations.

For those who would like to donate toys, IFCS prefers gifts under $30, Rutledge said, with a preference for old-fashioned or low-tech toys.

“We really love gifts that help kids develop,” Rutledge said, including science kits, art supplies, sports gear or bike helmets.

IFCS doesn’t allow video games as gifts, she said.

Adults deserve gifts too, Rutledge said, and IFCS prefers stress-relieving items like Snuggies and candles, or useful items like work gloves, tools, or hats and scarves.

“We ask adults what they’d like for Christmas, and many of them draw a blank and say ‘nobody’s ever asked me that,’” Rutledge said. “For our seniors, one of the more common answers is laundry soap.”

IFCS doesn’t want secondhand items, McPherson said.

“We’re trying to instill dignity, respect and self-worth,” McPherson said. “Expired food, ratty clothes and broken toys don’t do that. If you wouldn’t use it, it won’t enrich others.”

And while the holidays are the busiest time both in terms of donations and need, McPherson said, IFCS needs support all year.

“It takes long-term support to help keep families from falling through the cracks into homelessness,” McPherson said.

IFCS has seen need climb swiftly in recent years, he said, while donations have struggled to keep pace.

“This is a time and a place of plenty,” McPherson said. “Let’s grasp what people are willing to give. There’s a need, day in and day out. Our neighbors are depending on us.”

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