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In face of pandemic, nonprofits doing the best they can for Christmas

Nonprofit organizations face uncertainty as they prepare to provide holiday cheer for those in need in Central Missouri.

Last year, they anticipated increased demand at the end of a year when natural disasters added to demands for food and shelter for the area’s poorest residents.

But this year’s COVID-19 pandemic affected everybody across the community, state and country.

Here is a look at some of the efforts local charities will make this holiday season.

Samaritan Center

The pandemic has caused the Samaritan Center to cancel its annual Halloween costumes drive, said Ben DeFeo, the Jefferson City-based center’s operations manager.

“No one has been bringing in any bulk Halloween costumes,” DeFeo said. “And we couldn’t figure out a reasonable way to distribute the costumes.”

Costumes the center already has will be held until next year, he said.

The Samaritan Center has provided Thanksgiving meals for thousands of families. It has recently distributed more than 1,000 “Thanksgiving kits” annually. The kits contained complete meals for seniors and families, and included a turkey, stuffing mix, yams, fruit cocktail, cranberry sauce, pie filling and other products. And people wishing to help were able to buy items for kits at local grocery stores and ask the stores to deliver them to the center.

This year, there won’t be any Thanksgiving kits, DeFeo said. However, Thanksgiving meals will be distributed to clients to whom the center’s pantry distributes food.

“We’re either giving them turkeys with their food, or vouchers,” he said. “We’re going to sort that out with the grocery stores.”

The center is also reducing the number of families it will serve during its annual Christmas Adoption program.

The center contacted all of its partner churches and organizations that adopt large numbers of clients. All were reducing how much they could assist, DeFeo said.

The Samaritan Center began signing up clients for the Christmas Adoption program late last week.

Only clients who have been registered with the organization as of Sept. 1 will be eligible for the program. They also must have at least one child in the household who is 12 or younger.

The clients must make an initial call between 9 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Monday through Wednesday or 9:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Thursday to set up a later time for a phone interview. When the center calls, the clients must have the shirt, pants and shoe sizes for everyone in the household, as well as a wish list of three or four items valued at about $15.

The Samaritan Center is also conducting its Santa’s Workshop differently than in previously years. Because there won’t be opportunities to shop for specific items, like normal years, the center will purchase and package toys in bags by gender and age groups.

“We may find we’re in the situation where we’re doing more gift cards than actually shopping for families,” DeFeo said.

It’s not ideal, and some families may be disappointed.

“We’re sorry, but all things considered, we’re doing the best we can do,” DeFeo said.

Operation Christmas Child

Local organizers of the Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child shoebox project have set a goal to deliver a record number of boxes, said Michelle Hale, the Central Missouri area coordinator. They’d like to provide 20,000 children with the boxes.

“I’ve been packing boxes for over 20 years. This is the first year I can honestly say, ‘It’s all in God’s hands,’” Hale said.

The operation provides local partners around the world with shoeboxes filled with small toys, hygiene items and school supplies, and seeks to demonstrate God’s love through each gift. The age-specific boxes are shipped to children affected by war, poverty, natural disaster, famine and disease.

People filling shoeboxes should go to the Samaritan’s Purse website, samaritanspurse.org, to find out what is appropriate to place in a box. They are encouraged to put a note in the box and personalize it.

It’s really important to include schools supplies, Hale said, because a lot of them go to places where children can’t attend school without supplies. Also include a “wow” item, she said, like a soccer ball with a pump, a toy truck or a doll.

“(Shoebox recipients) often have to share toothbrushes,” she said. “So we always ask for a toothbrush.”

Call Hale at 573-291-8118 for more information or if you need a box to fill.

People can also fill a box virtually on the website.

The national collection week for shoeboxes is Nov. 16-23, Hale said. Locations for drop-off in Jefferson City have changed. This year, boxes may be dropped at Memorial Baptist Church, 1120 Madison St., and Concord Baptist Church, 3724 W. Truman Blvd.

“They can use our ZIP code locator to get the days and times when the drop-off locations will be open,” Hale said.

Toys for Tots

Toys for Tots depends on organizations and businesses to provide toys for distribution to needy children throughout Central Missouri.

Unfortunately, the pandemic will prevent many organizations from conducting fundraisers and toy drives, said Harold Faughn, Cole County coordinator for Toys for Tots.

Normally, each year, a single group provides more than 1,000 toys for the nonprofit. But, this year, it won’t provide any.

“That’s 500 children. I have no idea how we’re going to make that up,” Faughn said.

Other cancellations may account for another 800 toys not being donated to the area Toys for Tots, he said. The organization is going to have to be creative to provide for children, he said.

On Oct. 31, Toys for Tots will hold a “non-touch toy drive” from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. in the Orscheln Farm & Home parking lot, 2304 Missouri Blvd. in Jefferson City. The event will feature food vendors. Boxes and a pickup will be available, which organizers hope to fill with toys.

Toys for Tots will have 23 toy drop-off locations throughout Jefferson City. Boxes are to be distributed Oct. 5.

The organization will also hold a Toys for Tots kickoff event about 11 a.m. Nov. 14 at Capital Mall, in conjunction with the kickoff for The Salvation Army Red Kettle Campaign. More details will be shared as they come available.

The Salvation Army

“We’re trying to rescue Christmas,” Salvation Army Capt. Sarah Windell said.

The Salvation Army of Jefferson City begins its holiday season with a coat drive. Right now, new or gently used coats for children and adults may be dropped off in “coat boxes” at The Salvation Army Center of Hope, 927 Jefferson St.; First United Methodist Church, 201 Monroe St.; Living Hope Church, 3011 S. Ten Mile Drive; or Mayor Carrie Tergin’s Office, 320 E. McCarty St.

“I just cleaned out coats that no longer fit our children,” she said. “Children are vastly different sizes. We’re not just looking for little kids’ coats — we’re looking for teenage coats as well.”

The Salvation Army also accepts adult coats.

The Red Kettle drive will look a little different this year than in the past, Salvation Army Capt. Justin Windell said.

Bell ringers will wear buttons rather than aprons because they’re easier to disinfect, he said. They are encouraged to wear masks. If they forget their masks, The Salvation Army will have some available for them. And The Salvation Army will provide hand sanitizer.

Beginning Oct. 11, people may sign up to ring bells for The Salvation Army at registertoring.com.

To assist The Salvation Army this year, some corporate sponsors are “rounding up” at the registers for the nonprofit organization.

Walmart is helping with an “online angel tree,” Justin Windell said. To participate, go to walmart.com and click on the drop-down menu on the top left, then click on “Registry.” In a gray window on the right side, click on “Registry for Good.” Under “Give to a Local Cause,” key in your ZIP code, and the nearest worthy causes will pop up.

The Salvation Army will again host a Toy Shop this year. Families with children ages 17 and younger may register for the shop on any of these dates: 10 a.m.-noon Oct. 28-30 and 1 p.m.-5:30 p.m. Nov. 3, 5, 10 and 12.

Bring proof of residency (such as a recent utility bill), government identification for all adults, Social Security cards for all household members and proof of children living in the home (such as immunization records). If there is a child in the home who is not yours, bring court papers acknowledging they live in the home.

“We’re anticipating more people who will need help this year,” Sarah Windell said. “I anticipate our need growing when it comes to how many kids are going to need help with toys this year. We’re going to have more kids than normal. It scares me a little bit.”

Hope for Christmas

Compared to recent years, the number of referrals Hope for Christmas has received this year is steady, said Vicki Bullock, the organization’s executive director.

Because nursing facilities have been closed to visitors, it’s likely the project will have more seniors available for adoption than in other years, Bullock said.

In its 11th year, Hope for Christmas is intended to provide assistance during the Christmas season to families who have suffered a health or other crisis in the past six to eight months. Generally referred by organizations, doctors, clinics, hospitals, churches or other professional facilities, the in-need families may have lost a parent or child, or have someone who is suffering from cancer or another illness. Families are helped one time.

People who wish to adopt a family or senior may email the organization at [email protected] or call Bullock at 573-353-4720.

The organization will post information about families or seniors who are up for “adoption” on its website, hopeforchristmasjcmo.org or Facebook page.

Through Oct. 15, a volunteer has offered to match all donations to Hope For Christmas, Bullock said. Donations may be made on the organization’s website; dropped off in person at 1406 Missouri Blvd. Suite H (call Bullock in advance to assure someone will be there); or mailed to Hope for Christmas c/o Redeem Project Ministry, P.O. Box 105276, Jefferson City, MO, 65110.

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