More "working poor'' families are applying to receive Christmas baskets from the Holiday Bureau this year than in years past, a local social service leader says.
Sue Beers, director of social services at the Salvation Army, said it appears that many families with one or even two working parents simply do not have enough money to provide a merry Christmas for their children this year.
"Budgeting for Christmas is almost impossible for these families (the working poor), just like budgeting for an appliance breaking down is hard for them," said Beers. "No one wants to see their children disappointed at Christmas, but they just can't budget this money after they've paid rent, utilities and food bills."
Beers and representatives of the other local agencies that make up the Holiday Bureau met Friday afternoon to put the last touches on their game plan for this Christmas.
THE AGENCIES are making their final push in the next several days, because only 383 of the 783 local families that have applied for a Christmas basket have been adopted. Ideally, the agencies would like to be able to have all the families adopted by Friday.
Last year at about this time, the Holiday Bureau was desperate to have hundreds of families adopted. But two large, anonymous donations totaling $9,000 ensured that all of the applicants had Christmas assistance.
Beers said she's been working with the local needy for 14 years, and this year, she's seen a lot of new names on the lists of families who are applying to be "adopted."
Beers and the heads of other social service agencies said many of the families are embarrassed and apologetic when they ask for a Christmas basket. And, she said, many more of them are requesting "no frills" gifts. Instead, they are asking for necessities. Some have requested only clothes for their children and no toys. Some parents are requesting practical items such as diapers, toilet paper and laundry soap.
Salvation Army workers say they have noticed some significant price increases for toys from a year ago, she said. When prices go up, not only are the toys out of the reach of needy people, but it also means that many people who donate each year can donate less.
ON TOP of all that, noted Sherri Cannon, director of Ballard Center, Social and Rehabilitative Services is proposing a $9 per month cut in the Aid to Dependent Children program.
"That's significat when you're only receiving $300 a month," she said. "It looks the situation isn't going to improve."
Although no one knows for sure why the situation appears to be more critical this Christmas for the working poor and other needy people of Lawrence, the agency representatives offered some speculation on Friday.
Charlene Kelley-Johnson, director of the Lawrence Indian Center, said that the number of major disasters in the past year, including hurricanes and earthquakes, might have affected Christmas giving at the local level because people have donated to those other causes.
Jo Byers, director of the local chapter of the American Red Cross, also noted there have been some sizable layoffs at local companies this year.
Sandy Strand, community services director of Douglas County Senior Services, said the tax reappraisal situation had caused some of her clients' taxes to double and even quadruple.
"THEY WON'T have a Christmas, those who have no family in the area to do for them," she said. "These are the people who are asking for laundry soap, toilet paper and help buying prescription medications."
Local residents who are interested in helping a family can call one of the agencies participating in the Holiday Bureau, which are Ballard Center, the Salvation Army, Penn House, Douglas County Senior Services and the Lawrence Indian Center.
Local residents can help with the Holiday Bureau in a variety of ways, but, usually, local families or groups agree to "adopt" a needy family. The helping group will purchase enough food for the family to eat on Christmas Day, one new gift item for each member of the family and one new toy for each child.
Kelley-Johnson said that several people can get together to adopt a family, making it less of a strain on individual families. Too, she said, small donations of a few cans of food or a couple of toys or clothing items also are appreciated and will be placed in the Christmas baskets.
The names of the families who apply for assistance are kept confidential. The helping groups will receive only the ages of recipients and clothing sizes and some clothing or toy suggestions.