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DSS asks for help running Christmas Happiness

By Karissa Minn
kminn@salisburypost.com
SALISBURY ó The Rowan County Department of Social Services will only take Christmas Happiness applications on Saturdays at its office this year.
Next year, the department is looking for other agencies to help run the holiday assistance program.
Christmas Happiness helps families in need buy gifts for their children. Itís sponsored by the social services department, which distributes the funds, and the Salisbury Post, which helps collect them.
People can apply for Christmas Happiness 2011 at the social services office from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Nov. 19, Dec. 10 and Dec. 17.
Applications are taken on a first-come, first-served basis and vouchers are issued to eligible families based on the funding available for the program.
No mailed applications will be accepted, and none will be taken on weekdays.
Pat Spears, program administrator for the economic services division, recommended the changes at the Rowan County Board of Social Services meeting on Tuesday.
ěOne of the advantages is… when you do that face to face and they bring their documentation with them, you can determine eligibility on the spot,î she said.
Spears said opening the office on Saturdays allows staff to devote that time to Christmas Happiness, while devoting time on weekdays to required social services programs.
Assistance for food and heating is especially needed at that time of year, she said, and the departmentís caseload in child care and other programs continues to rise.
ěWe do not have the space for folks to fill up the lobby and the parking area,î Spears said, adding that people have started fires in the parking lot to keep warm while waiting. ěWe donít have the staff to see all those folks during regular working hours.î
Even mail-in applications take a lot of staff time, she said. The department used to give compensatory time for employees who worked overtime on Christmas Happiness, but that just increased the workload.
Spears recommended that employees be paid overtime for the Saturday hours, which she said would be cheaper than paying them overtime under last yearís system.
The board approved these changes unanimously.
ěThis, in our opinion, is the most efficient and effective way to handle the program this year,î said Social Services Director Sandra Wilkes. ěIt will truly be first come, first served.î
Wilkes has approached Elizabeth Cook, editor of the Salisbury Post, about developing a bureau to administer Christmas Happiness and similar programs next year.
Spears said this would help ensure that the department has enough staff time to handle services itís required to give to local residents.
ěWeíd like organizations that do Christmas assistance for families to work together, in order to prevent duplication of services and maximize funds collected for Christmas in this county,î Spears said.
The board also unanimously supported this effort Tuesday.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.
Twitter: twitter.com/postcopolitics
Facebook: facebook.com/Karissa.SalisburyPost

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