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Local organizations scramble to grant holiday wishes under pinching financial, volunteer constraints

Betty Ellen Barrett rings a bell at a Salvation Army kettle outside of Wal-Mart on North Atherton Street on Dec. 3. The Salvation Army is seeking volunteers to help, especially for weekend shifts.
Betty Ellen Barrett rings a bell at a Salvation Army kettle outside of Wal-Mart on North Atherton Street on Dec. 3. The Salvation Army is seeking volunteers to help, especially for weekend shifts. cweddle@centredaily.com

There are 15 days left until Christmas and local organizations are scrambling to grant holiday wishes to families in need. Some are struggling, finding themselves under pinching financial constraints.

The Salvation Army provides critical relief to families in need, year-round, but especially during the holiday season. The organization strives to put food on the tables of families in need, and presents under Christmas trees.

This year, the organization’s iconic Kettle Campaign, a fundraising effort that places close to 700 volunteers outside local businesses in an attempt to collect spare change, is suffering.

“We are having a hard time staffing our weekends,” said Envoy Betty Ellen Barrett. The decline in volunteers makes it hard for the organization to provide assistance to as many families as it would like.

“We provide the families we assist with vouchers for their holiday meals, the vouchers allow them to get what they really need. It gives them the choice to decide what they want to serve for their holiday meal,” said Barrett.

“We will serve 305 children and 120 families,” said Barrett.

In addition to the Kettle Bell Campaign, the Salvation Army also has an Angel Tree Program, which “allows community members to grant holiday wishes directly to families, especially children, throughout the area. The program is so detailed, it works to grant the exact wishes of the children in need,” said Barrett.

“One of our volunteers has an Angel Tree at her business and recruits donors through Facebook. She has already recruited 145 Angels.”

“None of what the Salvation Army does is possible without the community,” said Barrett.

Retired Major Eugene L. Weller runs the Toys for Tots Campaign in Centre County and says, “we can only do the work we do because we have a lot of help from a lot of people.”

Toys for Tots anticipates it will donate to more than 1,500 children throughout the community this year. The organization works directly with the Food Bank of Centre County and asks that volunteers attending their wrapping sessions donate at least one non-perishable food item. Toys for Tots has 260 collection points throughout the county.

“It appears as though, because the public is involved, they tell their friends and neighbors and they come out and volunteer. We can’t do this alone,” said Major Weller.

There will be at least four more wrapping sessions on the second floor of the Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel open for the public: Sunday Dec. 13 from 2 to 4 p.m., Monday Dec. 14 from 4 to 8 p.m. and Tuesday Dec. 15 from 2 to 8 p.m.

Judy Sinclair, the Director of the YMCA of Philipsburg, who also runs the organization’s Christmas Program, echoed Major Walker, saying “sometimes, you wonder how you’ll get it all done. But after 35 years, it always seems to get done. I couldn’t do this work by myself. People come in and wrap gifts.They just help out. It makes me feel really good.”

Sinclair’s Christmas Program serves more than 213 families and 500 children in Philipsburg.

She runs a clothing drive and asks each family to write their sizes on the back of a card, including what their children’s interests are. The cards are assigned a number and community members — including people who work at the prison, schools and churches — work hard to fill their needs.

In addition to the organization’s clothing drive, they also donate turkeys and other groceries to the families they serve.

Sinclair has 10 days to meet her deadline and just two children left on her wish list.

If you wish to volunteer or donate for the Salvation Army, you can visit their website, www.centrecountybellringing.com, or call 814-861-1785.

Jalelah Ahmed, 235-4631, jahmed@centredaily.com

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