Share the Season off to a good start

“2010 has been a year of loss and hardships for our family. We’ve suffered the loss of three family members, one our granddaughter. ... Your help has removed a great burden and a large amount of stress, giving us hope and the ability to focus on helping our grandchildren work through their grief and move forward.”

“With tears in my eyes I want to thank you for helping me and my family this holiday season. I am a single mom with no child support and I live paycheck to paycheck to make ends (meet). Helping me pay some bills has allowed me to get caught up on other back finances and provide for my daughter this year for Christmas. I work three jobs and still never have extra for her.”

“Thank you so much for my new tires. It is comforting to know that my children are safe now while riding in the car.”

“Your generous financial gift … was a tremendous blessing to our family. Not just with the bills you helped us pay, but also that gave us the freedom to give our four kids a very special Christmas.”

“I want to thank the foundation for helping me get my home treated for termites. I’m disabled and my income doesn’t allow anything extra, especially something this expensive. I have been worried how to treat my home and you made that possible. God bless you!”

If there’s a theme so far this early in Share the Season, it’s gratitude.

“Last year the level of desperation from the people that we interviewed was very intense,” said Cheryl Warne of the Salvation Army. “This year, people are just so much more appreciative. That’s not to say they’re not desperate.”

Share the Season, a cooperative effort of the Salvation Army, the Wichita Community Foundation and The Eagle, is off to a good start in other ways as well, with seed money left over from last year, Warne said. Requests for help so far are running about the same as last year, she said.

The program – in its 12th year – offers gifts of usually $600 to $700 for such things as mortgage payments, utility or medical bills or food to people whose income may be too high to get help from programs for the indigent but who nonetheless need a hand getting out of a financial bind. The Salvation Army screens and interviews the applicants, who are allowed to receive a one-time gift if they qualify.

“People are just amazed there’s a program like this and they’re crying during the interview because they are getting helped,” Warne said. “They’re just so appreciative and overwhelmed that the community cares to help them.”

Last holiday season, $216,882 was collected from 1,045 donors to help 281 families. Money was left over to help other families who came to the Salvation Army for help during the summer and to seed this year’s Share the Season.

Donations are given directly to vendors, such as the bank, utility company or doctor, on behalf of those seeking help.

Applications have been coming in, and 28 families have been helped so far, Warne said.

“The types of requests are very similar (to last year’s): lots of medical issues and people in need because of a loss of job either by a family member or they’re just getting get back to work after being way behind on their bills,” she said.

Beginning Monday, 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.

The program will accept applications for help through Dec. 16.

“People just apply when they’re in a position to apply. We don’t see any mad rush at the end,” Rob Allison of the Wichita Community Foundation said. “The Salvation Army does such a wonderful job screening the applications.

“The unique thing from my perspective is the trust the three partners have, and it works so smoothly. It’s a program that rises up from one month of a year with a specific need established, and the community rises up to meet the need.”