Share the Season marks 15th year of helping others

The 37-year-old father lost his voice in August.

At first, he thought he had a cold. But fatigue and the pain from a sore throat has lingered. Doctor after doctor has been unable to diagnose what’s wrong.

He continues to grow weaker and is now on short-term disability. He is waiting for test results. He is afraid of what they might say.

In the meantime, medical bills have piled up.

“I’m bringing home half of what I would normally bring home in a week,” the man said. “When something like this happens, it hits you pretty hard. You still have the same bills but less to work with.”

Not long ago, he found out about Share the Season, the joint project of the Salvation Army, Wichita Community Foundation and The Eagle. The program is marking its 15th year.

“I didn’t realize programs were out there like that,” he said. “They helped with utilities and a car payment.”

The program offers one-time aid to people affected by unexpected hardships. People can apply for assistance during the holiday season at www.sharetheseason.org and at the Salvation Army headquarters beginning Monday.

Starting Thanksgiving Day, The Eagle will feature a daily story of someone in need. Those who are featured will remain anonymous, but their need will be verified by the Salvation Army.

Share the Season is a grassroots approach in which the majority of donors send what they can — $5, $10 or $25 — while some contribute more.

Last year, 1,121 donors gave more than $258,000 to help 200 families in need.

The average recipient receives help toward paying mortgage, utility or medical bills. Payments are made directly to creditors.

The original concept for the program came when local philanthropist Mary Lynn Oliver told Wichita Community Foundation leaders about a program in Santa Fe, N.M., called “The Empty Stocking Fund.” That served as the prototype for Share the Season.

In the first several years, the Wichita Community Foundation provided seed money to help start the campaign. In more recent years, contributions have continued to pour in after the holiday season; some have been used to help people with unexpected needs at other times of the year. In addition, Share the Season had $38,360 left over from last year to help jump-start this year’s campaign.

Last week, the foundation sent out letters to past donors to start the year’s campaign.

A 53-year-old mother recently sought help with the program after spending 2 1/2 months in the hospital. She has an auto-immune disease, her joints ache, and she has had acute kidney failure and undergone surgery to remove septic flesh.

“When I was on my death bed, my 23-year-old son emptied my checking accounts,” she said. “I have no money. Bills are stacking up.”

She worries about making rent payments and, if she has to move from her small apartment, what will happen to her two beloved cats. She has applied for disability.

For now, the utilities are current.

“I can’t tell you what it is like to sleep at night without waking up wondering if I’d be without electricity or water,” she said. “I can’t describe how sweet and generous those people at Share the Season are to help me in this horrible state. They did not make me feel bad about needing help. I’ve never had to ask for anything in my life. I started working when I was 14 and never had to ask anyone for anything.”

But now, she does need help.

To help create more awareness for Share the Season, the community foundation is sending letters to area churches asking church officials to share with parishioners who may need help. It is also producing materials in Spanish and reaching out to other area nonprofit organizations.

“We want to reach more people so that everyone knows about this service,” said Shelly Chenoweth Prichard, president and CEO of the Wichita Community Foundation.

“We continually receive letters from people who have received assistance, have their lives back in order and now are wanting to donate,” Prichard said. “There is an incredible amount of generosity that Wichitans have for this project and even people outside the area who read about it and are touched.”

How to get, give help

Share the Season is a Wichita-based program that provides help to the working poor, either families or individuals, facing unexpected hardships.

To apply for help

Fill out an application at www.sharetheseason.org or pick one up at the Salvation Army, 350 N. Market, beginning Monday. For more information, call 316-263-2769. The deadline to apply is midnight Dec. 19.

To donate

Send contributions to Share the Season, Wichita Community Foundation, 301 N. Main, Suite 100, Wichita, KS 67202. Donations can also be made through PayPal online at www.sharetheseason.org.

For more information, call 316-264-4880 or visit www.sharetheseason.org