Elizabeth Cook: Your gifts will help warm young hearts

Published 11:57 pm Saturday, December 6, 2014

Growing children need shoes and jeans and long-sleeved shirts, I was reminded Saturday.

The Rowan County Christmas Bureau was taking applications from families who need help providing Christmas gifts for their children.

The word “gifts” may bring to mind indulgences or treats. But to many families who showed up Saturday, “gifts” meant jeans long enough for growing legs, socks without holes and sleeves that cover chilly arms.

So many people mentioned “long sleeves” that I got the impression a lot of kids are going around in short sleeves because that’s all they have that fits.

Thanks to people who make donations to the Post’s Christmas Happiness Fund, the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree, Project Santa and other programs that help families at this time of year, more of those arms will be covered after Christmas.

And there will be toys — thanks to those same programs and Toys for Tots.

I’ve had some involvement with the Post’s Christmas Happiness Fund for 30-some years. This was my first opportunity to help people fill out applications for Christmas Happiness and other programs, and to get a better idea about who the recipients are.

Almost to a person, the people who came for help were polite, humble and grateful. They readily provided the information the Christmas Bureau needed and seemed grateful for whatever help they might get.

The one exception for me was a man who wanted help for two adult members of his family. The programs participating in the Christmas Bureau are geared primarily toward children. There is some help through the Salvation Army’s Silver Bells for older people in need. But anyone applying Saturday had to provide documentation about government assistance they receive or, if they get none, their income and expenses. This man had only his own driver’s license, and he left in a huff when he learned that was not sufficient. Even in his frustration, though, he was not rude. Just very disappointed.

We asked people what their families needed most during the Christmas season — food, clothing or toys. Clothes came out No. 1 in my informal poll, followed by toys and then food.

Christmas Happiness gives vouchers, $30 per child, to be used for clothes, shoes or toys. That way parents can do the shopping.

The other programs give the requested items themselves, donated through the Angel Tree, Toys for Tots or Denton Baptist Church’s yearly collection.

One mother said the thrift shops were low on coats, and prices on children’s coats at one discount store seemed to start at $50. Maybe they’ll go on sale soon, I ventured.

If you have any children’s coats around your house that no one is using, please give them to one of the agencies that help families in need, such as Rowan Helping Ministries or Goodwill.

Another gap concerns teens. The Christmas Bureau took applications for children through age 12. Older kids might be out of the toy stage, but they could use some long sleeves, too — and the knowledge that someone cared enough to give them a gift.

Something needs to be done for children in middle school, Sandy Silverburg told me recently. The longtime college professor has been working with that age group as a tutor and guardian ad litem, and he said kids are being left out.

He encounters alarming poverty as he works with children in the court system and hears their stories.

“I see the bottom half of the community,” Silverburg said. “How many people in the community know about the bottom half?”

It’s easy to be blind to the poverty around us. But spend a couple of hours talking to parents hoping for a $30 voucher, and you see things differently. Fortunately, lots of generous people who support good causes all year recognize there’s a special need at Christmas to help children know the spirit of the season — and know it is for everyone.

Your gift could brighten their day with a toy or help them stay warm in a new coat. Knowing someone cared enough to make sure they weren’t left out of Christmas might do even more; it might even warm their hearts.

Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post.