It was a scene similar to that of Black Friday at stores like Walmart and Best Buy as more than 200 people formed a line outside of the Rowan County Social Services Building just before 8 a.m. Saturday.
But they weren’t waiting to run inside to shell out hundreds of dollars for a big screen television. They stood hoping for a chance to receive a voucher that would ensure their children will have Christmas gifts.
I was at the door handing out numbers and applications as people stepped inside from the chilly morning air.
I’m sure it wasn’t the ideal way to spend a Saturday morning, but the majority of them answered me kindly as I asked how they were doing, many even flashed me a quick smile.
It didn’t take long for the large waiting area to fill up. People sat in chairs and on the floor waiting for their number to be called over the intercom.
Instead of sitting in silence, many of them struck up conversations that quickly led to laughter.
The line dwindled quickly as 10 DSS employees worked to get people through, five of them feverishly typing in information on computers to verify eligibility.
Although the staff moved people in and out fast, they still took the time out to be personable.
Kimberly Miller is a perfect example.
When she saw a mother struggling to juggle a diaper bag, paperwork and her baby, who was crying, she stepped in.
Miller picked up the baby and calmed her by making silly faces. She walked with the mother from the waiting area into the room where applications were being processed.
The look of relief on the mother’s face said it all. You could tell she not only appreciated the help, but was pleasantly surprised by Miller’s actions.
Donna Fayko, who became the director of the Department of Social Services in May, said the application process has been streamlined this year to make things run more efficiently.
Those who are already receiving food and nutrition services simply have to fill out an application and show identification to be approved.
In the past, everyone had to bring proof of income, which is already a requirement to receive services.
By the time the doors closed at 3 p.m., a total of 446 families, which 1,030 children, had been served. That equates to $25,000 in assistance.
On the first Saturday that applications were accepted, $15,625 worth of vouchers were given out to 259 families with 625 children.
Applications will be taken for the last time Saturday.
Fayko said she’s been impressed with the generosity of Rowan County residents.
“The stories that we hear from people who are donating is they want to make sure these children have a good Christmas,” she said. “I’m very impressed by that. They are taking true ownership in the well-being of the community.”
Before coming to Salisbury, Fayco worked at the Mecklenburg County DSS, which has a toy room that typically provides gifts to foster children.
“What Rowan does is much broader,” she said. “Plus, they have a very good checks and balance system to make sure vouchers are going to people who really need them.”
Fayco said overall people have been very appreciative of the vouchers, which are given in increments of $25 per child.
“They can get the children something they really want, so it’s kind of uplifting,” she said. “We really receive a lot of sincere thank yous.”
This year was the first time community members were asked to volunteer to help with Christmas Happiness and I’m glad I could be part of it.
Although I couldn’t do any of the real work, I was able to assist in a tiny way.
Seeing families who were willing to wait hours to make sure their children have Christmas gifts was a welcome reminder of the importance of giving, whether it be time or money.
I think Fayko said it best.
“It is a heartwarming experience to help others and physically see the appreciation that families have for the assistance provided,” she said.