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Sun-Star employees lend a 'Helping Hand' for needy

While total contributions have not been tallied, organizers of the annual "A Helping Hand at Christmas" giving program are encouraged by Tuesday's response to street sales of a special newspaper edition highlighting Salvation Army outreach efforts.

The Helping Hand program, in its 21st year, is a cooperative effort between the Merced Sun-Star and the Salvation Army to raise money for the area's less fortunate residents. The regular Tuesday newspaper was enclosed within a special Helping Hand section only available from volunteer street vendors.

Christy Chess, the Sun-Star's human relations director and a Helping Hand coordinator, said she believes this year's newspaper sales met or exceeded last year's totals.

"The employees were really enthusiastic, and it seemed like the community was supportive," Chess said.

Capt. Raymond Erickson-King, commander of the Merced Salvation Army branch, said 16 community volunteers were positioned in eight different locations in central Merced on Tuesday morning and early afternoon, selling the papers for a dollar each.

"It's my first year here, and I'm not sure about the giving atmosphere. But everybody seemed to be in a giving spirit. I was in front of Starbucks on Main Street near Bob Hart Square and the response was phenomenal," Erickson-King said.

The four-page special section profiles Erickson-King and his wife, Jennifer, who came here in June, and a story about local instances where the Salvation Army has assisted needy residents. The section also included lyrics for familiar Christmas carols.

John Wainwright, Helping Hand chairman, said $6,475 has been raised so far for the program, which seems to be off to a "pretty good start." He reported more than $2,000 collected in the special edition street sales, and it is hoped more than $3,000 will be ultimately collected.

A $65,000 goal has been adopted for this year's Helping Hand campaign. Last year $72,870 was raised between Thanksgiving and the New Year's holidays.

The main needs this holiday season are food, clothing and assistance with rents, utility bills, house and car repairs, Wainwright said.

Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at 209-385-2485 or dyawger@mercedsun-star.com.

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