Between Oct. 5 and Oct. 22, the Union County Christmas Bureau received 650 applications from struggling families hoping for help this Christmas.
“That’s about normal for this time of year,” said Union County Volunteer Services Coordinator Gloria Haney.
If past years are an indicator, that number will more than triple by the time application processing stops Nov. 20. Haney said she expects to receive applications from about 2,200 Union County families.
How many of them receive toys, clothes, food and other items through the bureau will depend on their needs, which are carefully reviewed and compared to Department of Social Services records. That also depends on how much the bureau receives in donations, and how many people and organizations sign up to be sponsors.
“We have many donors who contribute toys and monetary gifts each year,” Haney said. “Churches, families and businesses also sponsor families or children in order to meet the needs of the families we serve... It is a community event that brings in individuals, families, staff from local business and organizations as well as student groups from around Union County.”
The bureau also depends on more than 600 volunteers whose tasks include typing application information into computer programs, matching clients to donors, receiving and sorting donations at the distribution center and other jobs.
The location for the distribution center varies every year, depending on what sites are offered by local organizations. This year, the distribution center is at South Piedmont Community College’s Center for Technology and Health Education at 3509 Old Charlotte Highway.
“SPCC is donating the space at no cost to us,” Haney said. “I am very grateful for the generosity of SPCC’s staff for all they have done to help us get into the facility, especially Dr. Stan Sidor for allowing us to use the location.”
The Union County Christmas Bureau began in 1983 as a collaborative effort between Union County agencies, civic groups, churches, schools and businesses. Haney became the bureau’s director in 2000, when the bureau received 1,072 applications, according to a Charlotte Observer article from that year.
The number of applications has outpaced the county’s growth since then, with Christmas Bureau applications increasing 105 percent compared to a 76 percent growth in population, Haney said.
She said most applicants live in Monroe, but they also come from Weddington, Waxhaw, Marshville and other communities.
Haney said a common misperception people have about applicants is that they live in run-down homes or fit another stereotype. She said applicants could be someone you’ve waved to in the carpool line at your child’s school, or the friendly server you often chat with at a local restaurant.
Many applicants “have been doing fine on their own for a long time, and they face a crisis and suddenly find themselves in a bind,” she said. “We have had donors become clients in the past, as well as clients becoming donors when their lives are turned back around.”
Haney said parents want Christmas to be special for their children – even if they can’t afford anything extra on their tight budget.
“The biggest need is for people to sponsor families and children,” she said.
Age groups that are often overlooked for gift items include children two and younger, and children 10 and older, she said, because many people who donate gifts tend to concentrate on gifts for children ages 2-10.
“People figure babies don’t need Christmas,” Haney said.
And for kids 10 and older, a lot of people think they should understand and accept that their families can’t afford to celebrate Christmas the way their friends or classmates do, she said.
Jane Duckwall is a freelance writer: email@example.com.
Visit the Union County Christmas Bureau’s Facebook page or go to one of these sites: http://www.co.union.nc.us/Divisions/SocialServices/VolunteerServices/ChristmasBureau.aspx ;