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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Need help this holiday season?

BY BECCY TANNER
The Wichita Eagle

Wiley Samuel just wants to get his family back on track with its bills. He works as a pre-loader at UPS. His wife, LaDonna, works at Rainbows United. The couple have three children: Nehemiah, 10; Zephaniah, 6; and Miciah, 4.

Nehemiah has sickle-cell anemia. He has had four strokes since he was born and now uses a wheelchair and feeding tube.

"We just need to get some help," Wiley Samuel said. "Just something to help us get caught up with some of our utilities and stuff."

That's where Share the Season might be able to help.

The program — a joint project of the Salvation Army, Wichita Community Foundation and The Wichita Eagle — offers one-time aid to people affected by unexpected hardships.

It will begin taking applications for assistance online today and also at the Salvation Army headquarters Monday.

Beginning Nov. 13, The Eagle will feature a daily story of someone in need and tell how readers they can help. Most of those featured will remain anonymous; their need will be verified by the Salvation Army.

"We are continuing to see an increase in requests for help," said Cheryl Warne, director of the Salvation Army's emergency social and disaster service.

"We are seeing folks who have never had to ask for help before. They have tried every avenue they can to make ends meet and now they are coming to us for help."

That overwhelming need has been met in the past with overwhelming generosity from the community.

Last year, a record number of donors, 1,045, gave a record amount — more than $217,000 — to help 281 families. Donations continued to come in after the program had stopped taking applications for assistance, resulting in a balance of $47,000.

The donations allowed the program to help 29 additional families over the summer — families who met the Share the Season criteria of not being eligible for other assistance programs. This is the first time since the program began in 2000 that such summer assistance has been possible

And $22,000 in donations will be used as seed money to start this year's campaign.

"I think people understand the issues that the working poor are encountering," said Rob Allison, president and CEO of the Wichita Community Foundation.

"Last year we were taken aback by the number of contributions that were made from people who had not made contributions before," Allison said. "We are hoping to have another charitable year because people understand the needs out there."

Like the needs of the Samuel family.

They qualified for help from Share the Season last year, Warne said. They made an appointment to meet with screeners to receive assistance, then canceled when Nehemiah had a medical emergency.

They never received anything from the program. They hope to this year.

"Nehemiah has a medical card and that helps a lot, but his prescriptions can get pretty expensive," Samuel Wiley said of his son, who takes 14 medications.

"We go back and forth. He needs blood transfusions and sees eight specialists on a regular basis."

The family specifically needs help catching up on their utility bills.

Share the Season has helped more than 2,200 families with more than $1.7 million in donations since it began in 2000.

All money raised goes to help people in need. The average recipient gets about $700 in assistance, mostly to pay the mortgage, utility bills or medical bills. Payments are made directly to creditors.

"I believe we will see the same needs and even more people will qualify this year," Allison said. "We have seen the enhanced strain of the economy on the working poor for at least four years. With more applications, there will be more strain. And we will be helping these individuals."

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or btanner@wichitaeagle.com.

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