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Christmas Happiness deadline extended

By Scott Jenkins
sjenkins@salisburypost.com
Rowan County residents have already made sure Christmas will be happier for a lot of local children. Now the Department of Social Services is giving more families in need a chance to buy gifts for kids who otherwise might go without.
The Christmas Happiness fund, a joint effort of Social Services, the Salisbury Post and all the people who make donations, has provided vouchers to every eligible family who showed up on three scheduled application days.
And with donations still coming in, the fund had $24,000 available on Monday. So Social Services Director Sandra Wilkes said the agency will hold a fourth application day on Thursday.
“The money has come in so plentifully this year,” Wilkes said Monday. “We just hate to sit on this money for a year if there are people out there that need it.”
Applications for Christmas Happiness vouchers will be taken 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday at the Department of Social Services, 1813 East Innes St.
To be eligible for assistance from the fund, a family’s income must be at or below the federal poverty level. For a family of four, that’s $1,863 a month. Approved families get vouchers worth $25 per child, up to a maximum of $100 for a family with four or more children.
Applicants must bring social security cards for all household members and proof of all income in the household.
On its three application days, Social Services approved vouchers totaling $41,000 for 1,743 children in 658 families. Those numbers are far below the 3,049 children helped last year, but Wilkes said that doesn’t mean fewer children are in need.
“It’s not because the economy has improved at all,” she said. “I think there are still people out there that need this help and will qualify for it.”
Wilkes said the smaller numbers are likely due to Social Services requiring face-to-face interviews this year and proof that applicants’ income levels qualify them for the fund. Last year, applicants mailed in their requests and the agency “took their word for their situation,” Wilkes said.
“But this year, we felt like we needed to be more particular because we felt like there would be a lot of people in need and we thought the money would only be enough to help the poorest of the poor, and to know who those people are, we felt like we needed to get documentation of their income,” she said.
Some who have applied at Social Services told interviewers they couldn’t show proof of income because they have no income. Some say they’ve been jobless so long their unemployment benefits have expired, and Wilkes said the agency has to take their word.
And even among those who have been able to show some income — Social Security benefits, disability, child support — “the vast majority are under the 100 percent poverty level,” Wilkes said.
Wilkes said she believes some of those people are still out there and could use the help.
“We’ll see what happens Thursday, but I hope a lot of people will come in and apply,” Wilkes said.

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