Agencies link donors with those in need

Lawrence social service agencies are back in the holiday swing to recruit residents to help fulfill the hundreds of adopt-a-family wish lists.

“It’s easy to feel forgotten around Christmastime, and this is one of those ways – maybe anonymous – that Lawrence cares about its community members. So this is as much about unity as it is about gifts,” said Paul Hunt, director of human service resources at the Ballard Community Center, whose 115 applications already equal the total number from last year.

Besides Ballard center, Penn House, Salvation Army, ECKAN, Douglas County Senior Services and Pelathe Community Resource Center have similar programs in which donors adopt an anonymous family that has submitted a list of items that they can pick up or have delivered to them during the holidays.

What it costs

When people ask Hunt how much they should give, he says enough to meet the goal of one clothing item and one gift item per person in the family and as much as a $50 grocery gift certificate for a meal.

The cost depends on the number of family members and ages that donors can request when reviewing the list agencies provide.

“Some prefer younger kids. Some prefer older kids. And we don’t put a limit on how much they’re going to spend. If they’re going to buy a toy, we ask that it be $20 or more,” said Susan Dalberg, co-officer of The Salvation Army in Douglas County, which has had 100 out of 150 families adopted so far. “It’s up to the family how extravagant they want to be.”

But many of the lists, especially those with no children, request the basics of food and clothing.

Judith Scheff, a retired office employee at Kansas University who has been adopting a grandmother each holiday for the last decade, said she has been startled by some of the requests: gift certificates to pharmacies and even cleaning supplies.

“You sort of stand there and blink, ‘My god, how terribly sad that there’s a person out there for whom a box of laundry soap is a present,'” said Scheff who with a friend spends about $50 to $100 and throws in scented soap or a teddy bear.

For families with children, the need and difficulty of providing beyond the basics can add a strain to an already strapped budget.

“There’s a feeling of just being able to provide the basic needs – the home and paying bills,” said Michelle Bible, director of survivor services at Women’s Transitional Care Services for battered women. “But when it comes to special occasions, being able to afford the extras may be a hardship.”

Help for children

Bible added that wish lists from the 30 applications last year were for their children’s needs. But donors normally throw in a little extra so the mother also has a nice holiday.

If any of the services comes up short, all agencies try to provide gifts through Toys for Tots and other organizations.

“Everyone gets adopted. I’m not going to let somebody go without a toy,” said Linda Lassen, director of programming at Penn House, which like the other organizations also accepts smaller donations.

In all cases, the organizations have backup plans in case the wish lists of families are not filled such as Toys for Tots or the Toy Shop program by the Salvation Army, which allows families to pick out a couple toys Dec. 18-20 at the Douglas County 4-H Fairgrounds.

Most services will accept adoptions and donations through Dec. 24. But Douglas County Senior Services has a deadline of Dec. 14 because it makes deliveries for most recipients.

And Hunt, of the Ballard center, sets Dec. 15 as a target date so that contingency plans can be made for families not yet adopted.

Deadlines for applications have wrapped up for most agencies with the exceptions of the Ballard center, which is Thursday, and Douglas County Senior Services, which is Dec. 1.

WTCS has no application deadline but warns that the later applicants have less chance to be adopted, said Eva Vlach, volunteer program director.

For those still wishing to apply, applicants must provide Social Security cards for everyone living in the home, photo ID for applicant and proof of Douglas County address.

They also must show proof of income that shows they are at 185 percent of poverty level, which is $37,000 a year for a family of four, $24,420 for a family of three and $18,130 for a single member, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services guidelines.