Season of giving winds down

Cris Gentilman, Corps Administrator for The Salvation Army on East University Ave, looks through empty kettles being brought in and stored for next year.

Photo by Tricia Coyne/The Gainsville Sun
Published: Sunday, January 10, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 10, 2010 at 12:12 a.m.

Gearing up to help those in need, the Salvation Army anticipated it would serve approximately 300 people during the 2009 holiday season.

The agency processed 630 applications for holiday assistance, double the projection.

Local efforts to fill the void during the season also saw increasing numbers at other agencies, which scrambled to make ends meet.

The annual Red Kettle drive by the Salvation Army was short of the $170,000 goal by $38,000, said Maj. Don Wildish. The agency increased the number of kettles in the community from 12 to 35 for the recent campaign.

"We are sending thank you letters to everyone who sent us a check, but it's not possible for us to do that to the people who gave a cash donation at the kettles. But we say thank you to each of them as well," Wildish said.

Looking forward, Wildish is looking into purchasing equipment that will allow donations through credit card or debit card transactions at kettles.

"There were a lot of people who told us they did not have cash but could have donated through credit card if we had a machine," he said.

Also making it tough for the agency this year was having to purchase gifts for 600 area children after people who adopted a child from the Angel Tree did not return with items. Couple that with the expense of treating the main building on East University Avenue for termites in late December and Wildish said this has left the Salvation Army financially strapped.

"Our only alternative would have been to say no to these families who came to us for help and cut back on services. We refused to do that," he said. "We are here to help and we are asking the community to help us recover from the unexpected numbers of requests."

Not wanting to paint a doom and gloom picture, Wildish said the families receiving assistance were grateful for the variety of gifts and food provided.

The Alachua County Public School Foundation coordinated an effort to collect food for families in need to get them through the 2 1/2-week winter break.

Kelly Kostamo, the district's business partnerships coordinator, said they were able to serve 297 families at 24 schools with food baskets of non-perishable items. In 2008, they served 400 families. All the families are identified by the staff at each school.

"We did not want anyone to choose between paying bills and buying food," she said.

The 2009 holiday giving season was described by St. Francis House director Kent Vann as "wonderful."

He said enough toys were donated so that 50 children each received four gifts. An additional 300 stockings, donated by an area church, were handed out to adults in the shelter or at the holiday meal.

"Overall this was a successful year and we could not have done it without the help of the community. We were able to brighten the lives of hundreds people," Vann said.

Things ran smoothly for the Toys for Tots program this year. Local program coordinator Eric Kidwell said the orogram was able to fulfill over 1,300 requests for toys.

"We did very well and this was an extremely successful campaign this year," he said.

Peaceful Paths, assisting victims of domestic violence and their children, were able to serve 76 mothers and 115 children with holiday gift items.

"We definitely had more requests than previous years," said Peaceful Path's Adopt-A-Family coordinator Lori Anglon.

She added that the effort proved challenging this year especially to get donations of electronics like MP3 players or portable CD players to fill wish lists.

And now that the holidays are over, agencies like Peaceful Paths and others want to remind the community that they can use assistance throughout the year to help those in need.

Vann said, "if we can get $1 from everyone in the county that would help, or others commit to donate $5 or bring us supplies. We can do so much if everyone helps."

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