Holiday drives see lower participation

Stacey Coggins, Lenoir City Schools Family Resource Center administrative assistant, packs toys donated by sponsors as part of the Santa’s Helper drive.

Area efforts to provide children gifts for Christmas have seen lower participation numbers and changes in operations this year.

For Santa’s Helper, which is administered through the Lenoir City Schools Family Resource Center, a typical year sees 400 children helped. This year, the program served 355 children, Stacey Coggins, administrative assistant, said.

“We don’t have drastically lower numbers,” Coggins said. “Our sponsors really haven’t — we hadn’t noticed a slack with them, really. Where some of them haven’t been able to give as much, others have been able to give more than they typically do. It’s really evened out well for us, and we’re evenly matched right now, so that’s even better. We don’t have any kids that are out there waiting to be sponsored or anything.”

FRC changed operations this year due to coronavirus concerns. Only FRC staff are allowed in the office.

“In years past, everyone has been allowed in,” Coggins said. “The sponsors would bring them in, and we would have them over there, and the parents would come in, and we’d have our parent pick-up book here. It’s been a different process as far as that goes. Now, they’re not allowed in, which kind of helps with the chaos in here a little bit. But one thing we have said that we are kind of sad about is the fact that we like this program so much because it helps our families, but we get to see them and see if there are any other needs that we can meet. This year it has taken a lot of face-to-face aspect out of it so that part is kind of sad.”

Two retired teachers did the shopping for 20 of the children, Susan Fox, Lenoir City FRC director, said. The duo did all of their shopping virtually from the office or their homes. Other sponsors did a combination of online and in-person shopping.

Lisa Grugin, Santa’s Helper sponsor, did most of her shopping online. She said it was easier than going in-person because she could check off her list of toys needed. She only to had to shop in-person for one toy.

Grugin doesn’t know if she’ll use the online shopping method for future years.

“This year it was just easier,” she said. “We’ve been super busy at work, so the only time I really have to do it — I’m not really getting a lot of days off right now, so the only time I have to do it is night. A lot of the smaller stores are closed. They close at the same time I do. The ones that are open are Walmart and Target and places like that, and I don’t really want to go there unless I have to.”

New sponsors help

Cindy Purdy, Loudon County Schools Family Resource Center director, said numbers were lower for this year’s Christmas for Angels, but the format of the drive was different from others in the county.

Instead of parents referring themselves to receive gifts, teachers refer children in their classes because the effort spans across the whole nine-school system, Purdy said.

In a typical year, Purdy gathers referrals from teachers before seeking sponsors to match with children. This year, Purdy anticipated sponsors not being able to give as much and did everything in reverse.

“This year what we did is we started out with looking at our community partners first, and we’re only going to do the number of children that the sponsors could commit to,” Purdy said. “Yes, the numbers were down significantly, probably almost by half, but it wasn’t because of teacher referral. It was because of community sponsorship. Of course, you have to understand our face-to-face groups weren’t able to meet, and the revenues went down, so then obviously they don’t have the funds to sponsor kids for Christmas.”

Purdy ended up with 230 children sponsored this year compared to 440 children last year.

“It was down because of sponsorship, and I won’t say a lack of because they all called and they all wanted to help,” she said. “They just didn’t have the means. In light of all this COVID stuff, we’ve made some interesting new community partners that stepped up and took care of the ones we had. I’d say 50% of our partners this year are new partners or it would have been significantly even less after that.”