The Christmas season is upon us, with holiday shoppers beginning to rush about in the cooling December air.
While many Merced residents find the chill of oncoming winter refreshing, there are those in our community who begin to worry whether they will be able to keep the heat on. While some of us plan our holiday menus, there are mothers who fear they will not be able to feed their children tonight. As some of us decorate our homes, there are families who fear they can’t come up with the rent money to keep their shelter.
Concerns such as these are what fuels the mission of A Helping Hand at Christmas, an annual campaign led by The Salvation Army and the Merced Sun-Star to help those among us who are in need of emergency assistance.
Marking its 30th year, the Helping Hand campaign kicks off Friday with the Sun-Star publishing a payment slip for donations at the bottom of the front page.
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Elaine Gale hears about the cases of Mercedians in need as a volunteer with The Salvation Army of Merced who coordinates the Helping Hand drive.
Gale, who has volunteered for 25 years with the program, talks to people who are struggling to meet basic needs.
“People who have lost their jobs, disabled seniors, people who have had financial problems because of job losses, or who have had deaths in their families and need help with expenses,” Gale said in recalling the types of situations challenging fellow Mercedians.
It may be their gas and electricity service is about to be shut off, or they are behind on rent and about to face eviction. Some need to pay for car repairs so they can get to work, she said.
“I had a woman with three children and her husband had left her with all the bills and she did not know where she was going after two weeks because she could not pay the rent,” Gale said.
The coordinators set a goal of raising $55,000 this year to help local families. All of the money raised is used to help people in the community.
“This is unique because this is money that goes to Merced,” coordinator Diane Craig said.
Added Gale, “it stays right here in the community.”
Last year, the program came close to meeting its $55,000 goal, collecting $52,275 to help local residents.
Helping Hand distributes charity awards of about $400 to each family in need – “some a little more, some a little less,” Gale said. All families seeking help are required to meet with Gale and to provide evidence of their financial situation – utility bills and rent receipts, she said.
Money donated to the campaign also pays for 350 food baskets that allow families to celebrate the holiday with a warm meal.
As an area that typically suffers unemployment rates higher than other counties in California, Merced’s need for extra help is always strong.
“Now, we just hope that the money comes in,” Craig said.
The local Salvation Army also hopes Mercedians will be part of the holiday spirit by volunteering to help. Volunteers are needed to staff the red kettles that collect donations at local businesses.
Service groups are encouraged to take up the challenge of volunteering their members’ time to help raise money for those in need. For information, call 209-383-4225.
Donations to A Helping Hand at Christmas will be welcome into the first week of January. Payments can be sent by mail to the Salvation Army, 23 W. Alexander Ave., PMB 68, Merced, CA 95348, or dropped off at the Sun-Star’s front desk.