HANCOCK COUNTY — As always, the Christmas holidays will be filled with numerous avenues through which to help the needy in Hancock County: bell ringers, toy collections, donation boxes, food drives and more. Figuring out where and how to give can be tricky.
From donating a tube of lip balm for Mental Health America’s Gift Lift to adopting an entire family through United Christmas Service, there are opportunities to get involved for just about every budget.
Here is a helpful roundup of the county’s largest assistance programs:
United Christmas Service
The county’s largest provider of holiday assistance is the United Christmas Service, run by United Way of Central Indiana with local assistance provided by county school systems.
United Christmas Service is an assistance program that matches entire families in need with donors or partner organizations looking to help. Families must apply to prove they meet certain needs standards, and then provide wish lists, clothing sizes, etc. Donors can then “adopt” a family for the holidays by choosing specific items from the lists to purchase. They can deliver wrapped presents to either the school for pick up or directly to the family.
Families may also be assisted through Direct Assistance – a restricted voucher system that can only be spent on food, clothing and/or toys.
Hundreds of Hancock County families apply for and receive assistance through the United Christmas Service each year.
To donate or adopt a family, visit uwci.org/ucs.
Shop with a Deputy
After a slight fundraising hurdle at the beginning of the season, the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department’s Shop with a Deputy program is now near its donation goal.
Organizers had long depended on GasAmerica allowing deputies to ring bells outside its stores, but the local company was sold to Speedway early this year. Speedway has its own charity and does not allow outside agencies to raise money at its stores.
Still, private donors have picked up the slack, and other area gas stations have invited deputies to come ring bells, organizer Amy West said.
Early this week, the department (which, like GPD, will escort children to Wal-Mart to go shopping) had raised about $7,000 of its $10,000 goal.
Deputies will ring bells at area Circle K stores Dec. 1. Donations may also be sent directly to the department at 123 E. Main St., Greenfield.
Cops 4 Kids
The Greenfield Police Department’s annual Christmas charity program might have to be scaled down somewhat this year, Greenfield Police Chief John Jester said this week.
In years past, the program, which treats children from underprivileged families to a shopping spree with officers at Wal-Mart, has spent $300 per child on as many as 40 participants.
This year, it doesn’t look like that’s going to be the case.
“It’s unfortunate that people are having rough financial times of their own this year when there are kids out there that have nothing,” Jester said. “We’ve always done very well on donations, and I’m appreciative of the donations we’ve gotten thus far this year, but it is down from years past.”
Jester said the department has 37 applications for aid but has funding for only 30 so far. He said organizers are considering spending less per child so more families can receive assistance.
Donations may be sent the Greenfield Police Department, 116 S. State St., Greenfield.
Gift Lift benefits the county’s chronically mentally ill, developmentally disabled and isolated senior citizens. It’s a wide-ranging group of people, but Harrison said they all have one thing in common: they could easily be missed during the Christmas season.
Each client – there will be close to 500 this year – is allowed two gift requests and also receives a small box of personal care items. That means more than 1,500 packages will be donated, assembled and wrapped before all is said and done.
Individual gift requests are printed on gift tags and distributed to churches, businesses, service groups and individuals that volunteer to fulfill a certain number of requests. The rest of the tags are hung on a Christmas tree inside Wal-Mart. There, shoppers can pluck a tag or two off the tree, purchase the items and deposit them in a donation box.
That tree is already in place, and gift requests are waiting to be filled.
But those presents aren’t the only things MHA still needs for a successful Gift Lift.
MHA accepts donations of shoe boxes and personal care items throughout the year, and is still in need of both to complete gifts for the record number of individuals expected to benefit this year.
Shoe boxes are filled with items like soap, toothpaste and lotion. The boxes are then wrapped and distributed with the requested gifts.
“It’s the little things people don’t think about,” Harrison said, that make a big difference to the clients.
Donations can be dropped off or mailed to MHA, 98 E. North St., Greenfield.
Toys For Tots
Founded more than 60 years ago by the Marine Corps, Toys for Tots collects new, unwrapped toys for children who might not otherwise receive presents for Christmas.
More than 35 boxes are set up throughout the county – including at nearly every school – collecting toys that will eventually go toward brightening Christmas for local children.
“There are just lots of folks participating and helping,” said Dick Jefford, county Toys for Tots organizer.
Jefford said he is hoping to collect as many, if not more, toys than last year. About 2,000 toys were collected last year and distributed to 650 children.
“We have every reason to believe we’ll be successful again this year,” Jefford said.
The program works by collecting new, unwrapped toys for children up to 12 years old. The toys are then sorted for age appropriateness and distributed to needy children referred to the program. Toys are often relegated to the last priority when families struggle just to put food on the table. Programs like Toys for Tots help ensure kids in those families still have something to open on Christmas.
New, unwrapped toys for children up to 12 years old can be dropped off until Dec. 8 in collection boxes at more than 30 locations.
Since 1948, Sertoma members have been taking Hancock County families shopping for new clothes each holiday season.
For families who are not adopted by individuals or organizations through United Christmas Service, Sertoma fills the gap by making sure at least 200 local kids receive new clothes. And for the third year now, Santa’s Helpers will work hand-in-hand with Toys for Tots so children can receive both toys and clothes for Christmas.
“While providing a great service to provide clothing items for children, we know they always want toys, too,” said Paul Pfaff, Santa’s Helpers organizer.
But unlike Toys for Tots, Sertoma collects strictly monetary donations. The money is divided among all of the children on Santa’s Helpers list, and then those families actually get to shop for the clothes themselves.
Pfaff said the group is hoping to raise $15,000 this year, which would work out to about $75 per child.
“That’s always the goal,” he said. “Some years we do that, some years we get close. The people of Hancock County are always very good to us.”
Pfaff said Santa’s Helpers did not quite meet its fundraising goal last year. In a tough economic landscape where more families need help than can give it, Pfaff said fundraising is an ongoing challenge. He’s confident, though, that this year the community will come through for the children.
Santa’s Helpers will take families shopping the week before Christmas, so donations will be accepted until Dec. 18.
Donations can be sent to Santa’s Helpers at P.O. Box 43, Greenfield, IN 46140.
Staff Writer Noelle Steele contributed to this report.