Lenoir City and Loudon County Family Resource Centers have had to get creative and adjust Christmas programs to ensure children don’t go without this holiday season.
For Lenoir City Schools’ Santa’s Helper program, now in its 21st year, the effort has been taken virtual.
“The biggest disappointment for us as a staff is that we have not been able to meet with the parents personally like we’ve always done in the past,” Susan Fox, Lenoir City FRC director, said. “All of the application process has been online this year, so our communication has been via emails and phone. For us not being able to personally see the parents and work with them on the opportunities to serve their children on Christmas time, but also the other needs that they have. The form that we used allowed us to capture other needs that the family might have, and so we’ve been addressing them as well via phone.”
The program will serve 128 families, including 324 children, through 66 sponsors, Stacey Coggins, administrative assistant, said.
Many sponsors come from last year’s pool of helpers, Fox said.
“Logistically what we’ve been doing is we’ve been having an open dialogue with the adult volunteers that we’ve had in prior years to find out what their comfort level is in being here at the center in a somewhat controlled environment,” Fox said. “When I say that, they’ve lived it every year, so I don’t want to assume that we have all the answers. My volunteers have kind of helped us shape what we think is going to happen. Logistically what will happen this year is when the sponsors drop off the gifts, either a staff person or volunteer will meet them at the door and we will take the gifts from them, they won’t come into the building. We’ll take the gifts, capture their information as to who they are and what they’re dropping off. That will be logged into a book by our volunteer or staff. We’ll do that same general process when a parent comes to pick up.”
Families will take a similar approach for collecting gifts.
Despite a challenging year and several unknowns, Fox said she has been pleased with sponsorship help.
“I’m not going to tell you it hasn’t been a challenge, it has,” she said. “We’ve had some groups that have had previously shopped for 30 and 40 children that this year have decided that they’re going to donate money that would be the equivalent of that. The largest challenge is being able to find virtual shoppers, because as you might imagine, the financial side of that has to be very tightly controlled because we’re a public school system, we’re working with donated dollars, but we still have to meet the financial accountability for the money that’s been entrusted to us in that project.”
Two retired teachers have stepped up to help shop for students, Fox said.
There have been slight changes.
“What we did have the opportunity to do is to work with the sponsor to find out what their comfort level is, how were they willing to work within our needs so that we could still have some type of a partnership,” Fox said. “For some of the larger groups that meant us working individually with the member where always in the past there had been a point person and we worked through the point person and they collected the gifts and either we picked them up or they came in a large delivery. This year we’re working one-on-one with the member, which allows the member to set their own delivery time. It’s less work on the point person, and the space limitations, handling the gifts numerous times, that eliminates all of that. That’s what we’ve done with two of our largest groups.”
Unlike years past, a wait list for families has been nixed. Fox said the decision was made because of concerns over the number of sponsors.
For more info about sponsorship, call the FRC at 865-986-0518.
County meeting needs
In its 20th year, Loudon County Schools’ Christmas for Angels looks to continue serving families in need.
Each year the program is based off teacher referrals.
“There is a great need for this project as it provides warm clothing for our children,” Cindy Purdy, Loudon County FRC director, said in an email correspondence. “Each child shall be gifted long-sleeved shirts, pants, sock, shoes, winter coat, winter hat and gloves, blanket and a pillow to enjoy during the winter. Children should be well rested and happy from being warm, so once they arrival at school they are ready to learn. ... Community support is vital to the success of Christmas for Angels. This project would not exist without them.”
Purdy could not determine how many students or sponsors will participate this year. She said it’s too early to tell, but recognized the need for help. Christmas for Angels last year helped 441 students and their siblings. The sponsorship deadline this year is Nov. 20.
“Sponsors are always welcome as we have nine schools that may continue to refer children in need as long as sponsors are available to assist them,” Purdy said.
Changes have been implemented this year to account for COVID-19.
“Daily temperature checks for all working staff,” Purdy said. ”No volunteers are being allowed inside the Family Resource Center or the schools. Hand sanitizer and face coverings are required during gift drop-off. The angel gifts will be in quarantine for two weeks prior to their distribution to the schools, children and their families.”