When it comes to The Salvation Army and its Christmas outreach programs in Merced County, Elaine Gale and Barbara Wainwright go way back.
Wainwright's husband, John, is considered the founder of "A Helping Hand at Christmas," which began 25 years ago. He saw that a similar program in Monterey was prospering and thought it would work here. With the cooperation of the Merced Sun-Star, the Christmas donation program was born, and it has yielded $1,163,277 in holiday giving over the years.
John Wainwright, a longtime Merced real estate agent and local developer, died Sept. 4, 2011, and Barbara Wainwright has stepped up to fill the void.
Barbara Wainwright said the family's Decembers were sort of consumed with the Helping Hand program. She helped her husband get the Helping Hand appeal envelopes ready to mail while he took care of bank deposits.
"I remember him saying that's a great program (Monterey has) and it would be great if we could replicate it here," Barbara Wainwright said. "The Salvation Army has a reputation of using money wisely."
Her husband contacted then-Sun-Star managing editor Burt Fogelberg and that set the wheels in motion for establishing the local program. People make contributions through the newspaper, which publicizes the ongoing efforts and keeps a list of program donors.
Gale, now Helping Hand chairman, said her mother was a member of The Salvation Army's Home League women's group years ago and her husband, Everet, was a member of The Salvation Army's 14-member advisory board for 35 years.
"The Salvation Army is an awesome organization for helping people, the love and compassion The Salvation Army has for people," Gale said. "The attitude of Salvation Army is so great."
Typically, Gale interviews more than 100 people who seek The Salvation Army's help, starting at the beginning of December and continuing three days a week through the month.
"That (Helping Hand) was John's love," Gale said. "He wouldn't have it any other way and he felt very strongly about it."
Barbara Wainwright said her husband was a born boss and got things done when it came to the Helping Hand program.
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or email@example.com.