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DSS director shares Christmas Happiness fund experience

By Sandra Wilkes
For the Salisbury Post
The Christmas Happiness program is an unexpected blessing for many local children and their parents. Through this program, the Rowan community — including individuals, businesses, church groups, civic organizations and public and private agencies — donate to the Christmas Happiness fund that is sponsored by the Salisbury Post. Since Thanksgiving, it has been heartwarming to see the list of daily donations recorded in the newspaper, and it has been interesting to read accompanying articles about the reasons people donate. All funds are entrusted to DSS. Families, who are determined eligible by DSS for Christmas Happiness, receive a voucher for toys or clothing. In turn, parents take these vouchers to the store of their choice and shop for gifts to put under the tree, to be discovered by their children on Christmas morning.
I had the opportunity to work with several Rowan County Department of Social Services employees who were taking Christmas Happiness applications December 17. This was the third time DSS was open on Saturday for the sole purpose of taking Christmas Happiness applications. The lobby filled as soon as doors were opened at 8:15 a.m. Parents, many bringing their children with them, waited patiently until their number was called to be interviewed by a caseworker. Some had to wait about around 45 minutes but the process went quickly with twelve caseworkers on duty.
Checking applicants in, I asked whether they had the required information with them. If they didn’t, I urged them to get the information and bring it back before 3 p.m. to avoid waiting needlessly. Applicants could not be approved without proper documentation, which included social security cards for all household members and verification of household income.
Many parents told me they have no income to verify because their unemployment benefits have ended. Others said they are on “short time” or earning minimum wage. Many families were recognized by the caseworkers as recipients of Food and Nutrition services and Medicaid.
The children I talked with were typical children, with definite ideas of what they want from Santa. One eight-year-old girl said she wanted Santa to bring her a red dress with a ruffle on the hem. She demonstrated how the dress would bounce as she walked. An older child had dreams of receiving a computer game. What a disappointment if these dreams could not be fulfilled.
Families who were approved for Christmas Happiness were those whose income is at or below 100 percent of the federal poverty level. For a family of four, that amount is $1,863 gross monthly income; not much for a mother and three children to live on and certainly not enough to pay for toys and clothes for Christmas gifts.
After three Saturdays of processing Christmas Happiness requests, 658 families had been approved for vouchers that totaled $41,000 for 1,743 children. The amount of assistance is $25 per child and up to a maximum of $100 for a family with four or more children in the household.
Parents who were approved for help left DSS joyfully with voucher in hand and headed straight for the store to do their shopping. Because the donations have been plentiful, no one has had to wait on funds to be available.
Although it was not in the department’s initial plans, DSS will take applications one final day on Dec. 22 from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. Applications will be taken at the Department of Social Services, located at 1813 East Innes St., Salisbury. Parents should bring social security cards for all household members and verification of income.
There might be children in the community with dreams of gifts from Santa whose parents have not yet applied for Christmas Happiness. Rowan County is a caring community where children’s dreams become real.
Sandra Wilkes is the director of the Rowan County Department of Social Services

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