Local agencies continue to be inundated with requests for assistance, there are more and more victims of domestic abuse and the list of people in need of service continues to grow, whether at the Crisis Center, U Care, the Department of Social Services or other agencies. The United Way of Sampson County continues to solicit any donations possible in not only reaching its own goal of raising funds but to serve its partner agencies, of which the previous three are each a part.
As with United Way, Toys for Tots also relies on donations from the community. More money coming in means more children who get to have a Christmas this year.
While organizers and department heads said the need is always there, they are also quick to attest that a down economy has only compounded that need, and the importance of giving anything that can be given. There are many options to giving this holiday season (see box), and at other times throughout the year, and the Independent encourages readers to search out ways to give — whether to local service agencies, churches or civic and other community organizations.
U Care director Pam Gonzales said the shelter is always busy, with abuse not discriminating around the holidays.
“Sometimes we have people donate a turkey and bring it here or other food,” said Gonzales. “That kind of stuff is always welcome. I don’t think anyone has signed up (to bring one) this year.”
She said Graves Memorial Presbyterian Church donated a large amount of food after hosting an event in which members fed the needy and homeless. Donations are especially appreciated because, Gonzales said, “a lot of our clients don’t need to be out or be seen in public.”
The number of those clients has increased too.
“It’s been a steady increase,” said U Care’s director, citing a 29 percent rise in victims served in 2009-10 over the year before. “It’s steadily worsening.”
In 2009-10, there were 2,643 victims served by U Care.
“We’ve been so busy the last two years, I don’t know when Christmas came,” said Gonzales. “We’re open 24 hours a day. All day, all night, there’s someone here.”
While Christmas is often a blur, Gonzales said the shelter prepares for when it comes around and encourages public assistance when at all possible.
“We try to have some emergency Christmas gifts,” she said. “That way if someone comes in Christmas Eve night, there’s something for them. It’s really hard to judge that ahead of time.”
U Care also maintains a “needs list” of people who need assistance. Food donations, preferably in Ziploc bags, can be distributed among any victims at the shelter as well as the people on that list. Along with food, paper products, including paper towels and tissue, are a necessity.
“That’s something that’s like gold around here,” said Gonzales.
Anyone wishing to donate is asked to contact U Care. Those wanting to drop something by the shelter are asked to call ahead, so the arrival can be anticipated and the environment can remain secure.
Sampson Crisis Center
Rochelle Stuart can sum up the atmosphere at the Crisis Center quite simply.
“It is real bad,” the center’s director says flatly. “I’ve never seen it as bad, and I’ve been here 13 years.”
While she urges donations to the Crisis Center and seeks to fulfill the need of every family who has one, she also assures those who would donate that the system is heavily scrutinized from within.
“I say this every year, I don’t believe in sugar-coating it,” said Stuart. “As bad as it is, you still have people that don’t manage what little money they have.”
Stuart said she has often encountered a mother in need who is asking for money for food and a light bill, and reaches out her newly-manicured hand. Stuart said those requests can sometimes fall on deaf ears.
“If it’s me and it comes to nails and hair or a gallon of milk and some bread,” said Stuart, “it’s going to be the milk and the bread. I tell people you need to be as honest as you can be and, if you’re honest, nine times out of 10 you get what you’re looking for. But it’s tough, I know it’s tough, but we have to make sure what little money we have is spent wisely. I have to make sure I’m helping the needy and not the greedy.”
There are plenty of needy, and all donations are urged.
“Anything someone has to give, I encourage it,” she said. “It’s tough out there. We take anything. I don’t like to narrow it down.”
When Christmas comes around, the Crisis Center will see what has come in at the welfare shop that can be distributed. It also urges residents to make good use of their old toys.
“We encourage toys,” said Stuart. “They don’t have to be new, but we ask they be clean and in good shape, so we can give them to somebody that doesn’t have anything. Anyone who is cleaning out their closets and has some toys, we will take them. We have yet to turn anyone away at Christmas.”
From toys and clothes to necessities like soap, deodorant, toothpaste and combs, all are requested. Any individual or group that wishes to adopt a family for Christmas, Stuart said there is always a family for them.
Adopting a family can be done in many ways. The Crisis Center will usually give several options of families in need, and the donor can pick the family that suits them best. Money can be donated and the legwork and shopping done by Crisis Center volunteers to accomodate the chosen family, or the donor can do the shopping themselves. The donor may be able to contact members of the family who benefit from the gift, or they can give anonymously.
There were eight families adopted last year. There have been four families adopted this year, from some of the same benefactors.
“They’re not giving as much because times are hard,” Stuart said. “The same people who have asked for families last year have come forward. I have confidence that the others will to.”
Department of Aging
Around Christmas, the local department focuses on providing donations to its grandparents raising grandchildren, so that elderly guardians may be able to provide a nice Christmas for their grandchildren.
“We’ve had some churches and people call up and say ‘hey, I want to do something,’” said Department of Aging director Lorie Sutton said. “We partner up with groups or individuals, anyone who is willing to help. We try to help those grandparents raising grandchildren.:
Last year, there were 13 families assisted through the program.
The department gets a wish list from the grandparents ahead of time and those wishing to participate can essentially adopt a family, similar to the Crisis Center, and try to accommodate the wish list requests.
“If we can get most of what’s on there,” said Sutton, “they’re really appreciative.”
There is also an opportunity to donate food, with the department pulling together donated fixings for Christmas boxes for some of the other families, maybe an elderly couple or a widow or widower.
More than 20 of the boxes were distributed last year and Sutton is optimistic, with donations, that the department will be able to serve just as many people this year.
Every dollar given to the United Way of Sampson County helps to support someone else locally.
The local United Way is in the midst of its annual fundraising campaign, a drive that will continue until Dec. 31. While Nancy Carr, executive director of the local United Way, is pleased with early returns, she and others have urged more donations.
The more money that is donated, the more money sees a positive, tanglible result in Sampson, she said.
The United Way’s partner agencies include, among many others, the Crisis Center, U Care and the Department of Social Services’ Christmas Cheer Program (see related story Friday).
“Funding is down, yet the need has increased,” said Carr. “We’ve seen that across the board. Especially with the economy the way it is, the need is as big as ever. We’re hoping people that can give, do give to United Way this year.”
Toys for Tots
A volunteer program started locally over 30 years ago has fallen on some of the most difficult times it has faced. The need is immense.
“I am not surprised — especially with the economy the way it has been over the last couple of years — it has been tough on families,” said Sampson Center director Tim Boykin. “People can barely afford the basic necessities, let alone this big holiday. So, as long as there is a need, we try to accommodate those people in need.”
This year, Boykin said, the requests for assistance have been near the 500 mark, but the program will not be able to accomodate anywhere near that number. The registration has been cut off at 200 and gifts will only be passed out to children 12 and under.
“It is very tough to tell people that because the need is so strong. But at the same time, we just don’t have the resources — we do the best we can to try and service as many families as we can.”
Any amount over the 200 hinges completely on local donations.
“If there is anything left after then we will do what we can,” he said. “At this point, it is about what we have in local donations — that will dictate how many we can serve.”
For those wishing to give, checks can be made out to the Clinton Recreation and Parks Department (put “Toys for Tots” at the bottom); or drop off a new unwrapped toy at the main office at 119 Leisure Lane or the Sampson Center, at 808 Barden St. If the toy is already wrapped, please be sure to put the appropriate sex of the child and the age-level.