12/18/06 — Sharing with the county's needy

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Sharing with the county's needy

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on December 18, 2006 1:45 PM

Wayne County is in the giving spirit this year, with many people signing up to provide food, clothing and toys for the needy across the area, local charities say.

Money is also coming in for several major collections around the area, too, organizers say, just a little bit more slowly.

United Way, in the middle of one of those fundraising efforts, is behind its 2005 pace, but is inching up toward its $1.44 million goal. Today's 80 percent mark sent Sheriff Carey Winders to Krispy Kreme as part of the organization's Bring It On, last-minute fundraising push. There are still two more challenge levels to achieve.

Suzie Acree of the United Way office said the community is responding well to calls for help for the needy.

"Maybe it's because I'm more aware, but we have lots of givers and a lot of people willing to match them up with people," she said.

Several of the United Way agencies have holiday drives under way. The Mental Health Association's Operation Santa, which is being held in conjunction with Cherry Hospital is in full swing, and several area motorcycle toy drives have brought toys to children at the county's Boys & Girls Club. Local Girl Scouts conducted a blanket drive, and Southern Wayne High School's Beta Club collected clothing for children at Cherry Hospital.

Gift drives at businesses have been pretty strong this year, too, Mrs. Acree said. Several companies, like Old Navy and U.S. Cellular, have adopted families to provide gifts for Christmas. Target is doing a Share-A-Tree Friday and will give away three fully decorated trees to families referred by United Way.

And for the first time in 11 years, all of the Christmas wish trees at Berkeley Mall are bare. Mall manager Linda Priestley said all the children represented on the trees should get something this year -- more than 641. More than 230 senior citizens also will receive holiday gifts.

"The seniors went first this year, and the little girls always go," Mrs. Priestley said.

In the past, she said, as many as 60 and 70 boys have not been chosen for holiday gifts, forcing local agencies to cover the rest of the needs.

But even if their names were not chosen, no child went without a Christmas gift, said Daniel Hooper, parent involvement coordinator for Head Start at WAGES.

The program generally has about 600 children enrolled in programs at WAGES, including First Steps, where some are as young as 6 weeks old, Early Head Start and the Head Start for the 3- and 4-year-olds.

He said the WAGES program "picks up the slack" when tags are left on the Christmas wish trees -- with the help of other donors who offer to help.

"We find ways to assure every child gets one," Hooper said. "We have different kinds of sponsorships. We get phone calls from individuals who want to adopt a family for the holiday season. Many times they're also sensitive to the needs of Mom and Dad."

WAGES always manages to find resources, Hooper said Monday while he was helping his social workers load up boxes of gifts. Some of the social workers had pulled names off the tree and bought gifts for the children, too.

Donald Collins, who has 60 families in his caseload, piled gifts onto a cart to carry to his car. This was not his first time, and he was looking forward to seeing the looks on the children's faces.

"Some of these children wouldn't get anything for Christmas without this," he said. "The kids are jumping around and dancing and thanking you, even as young as they are."

After this weekend's Empty Stocking Fund party, the organizations sponsoring the event are close to their goal of $36,000 to pay for the party that matched 663 children with a toy, clothing and a holiday stocking of treats.

Fund treasurer Barbara Strum said the county has always come through with the funds to make the children's Christmas wishes come true.

"We operate on faith every year that the money will come in," she said. "This community really steps up to help others in need."

Donations are still being taken for the 2006 party. Send checks to Empty Stocking Fund, P.O. Box 10629, Goldsboro, N.C. 27532.