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'Helping Hand' donations reach $68,000

Donors to "A Helping Hand at Christmas" have pushed the holiday relief program $3,000 past its fundraising goal.

John Wainwright, chairman of the cooperative program between the Merced Salvation Army branch and the Merced Sun-Star, said $68,000 has been collected so far and he wouldn't be surprised if $70,000 was raised or last year's $72,983 total ultimately is exceeded by the end of the year.

"It's been a very successful year and I'm very happy people are so giving and aware of the needs," Wainwright said. "People realize a lot of others are hurting."

Hank Vander Veen, Sun-Star publisher, was elated with the program's success.

"We'd really like to thank all of those in the community who helped us reach our goal," Vander Veen said. "It's important for the community to come together, especially when times are tight for certain individuals."

Capt. Raymond Erickson-King, Salvation Army commander, was pleased with Wainwright's announcement.

"It's quite exciting; we're very pleased. We helped more people this year and we want to thank the community for stepping up to the plate."

Donations customarily keep coming in until about Jan. 2-3. A $65,000 fundraising goal was set and Wainwright at first thought things might be tight this year, with high unemployment and the slump in housing and real estate markets.

A number of donors had never contributed to Helping Hand before and repeat donors remained committed to the program, Wainwright said.

"I am very pleased and happy to see the responses of the people of our community," Wainwright said. "It is my personal opinion that if more churches, organizations and individuals fully understood the basic principles that Jesus taught us to live by, to treat others as we want them to treat us and to love others as we love ourselves, we would be living in a manner more pleasing to others and to God."

Started 21 years ago by Wainwright after he observed a similar program in Monterey, Helping Hand is administered by The Salvation Army. Contributions help meet a number of needs, including housing and utility assistance.