Santa's Helper gives families a hand

Beth Mouse, a member of the Kiwanis Club of Tellico Village, volunteers to wrap presents at the Lenoir City Schools Family Resource Center.

The annual Santa’s Helper program is underway and so far this year has seen reduced need.

For the program administered through the Lenoir City Schools Family Resource Center, 400 children are typically served. Last year, 355 children received gifts and FRC Director Susan Fox anticipates that number could repeat in 2021.

“This year we are down a little bit,” Fox said. “We are in our wait list book and those are the families that maybe didn’t have an opportunity to get everything that was required for the process by the deadline date, but they have since completed the process and they have been held in a wait list. ... Loudon County is a very generous community, but if the sponsors are willing to sponsor children we’ll sponsor them right on up until early December. In the past two years we have been able to clear the wait list book and we anticipate we’ll be able to do that this year.”

As of Nov. 16, the FRC had assigned 311 children to sponsors. Fox said that could go up to about 350.

“It changes minute to minute,” she said. “They don’t remove from the system but we certainly add ... up until around the first of December.”

The program ensures school-age children and their siblings don’t go without for Christmas. The process for seeking families begins in August.

Fox couldn’t pinpoint the exact reason why the number has been down.

“The program is used for the Family Resource Center to get to know our families,” Fox said. “So the more families that we can meet with and have that individual contact with helps to enable our families throughout the year to know who we are. That’s the first and foremost important thing and to fill the needs that they have above and beyond Christmastime. What we have found though this year is the families that, let’s say you have a family that you know has always been in the program or we had a referral from a teacher, when we’ve reached out to them they have used the monies that were given to them through the stimulus and the child tax credit, they have used those in the home to where the need is not as great this year.

“In fact, I think yesterday (we) had a family that said, ‘We’re OK this year. Help somebody else that may need it more than we do’,” she added. “So we’re seeing some of that, which would contribute.”

Fox also checks with similar efforts through Toys for Tots and Loudon County Schools.

“A community the size that we are, Loudon County and Lenoir City schools will have the same family in both school systems so we make sure that we don’t double serve them as well,” she said.

Some gifts have come in, but Fox anticipates the bulk will start to arrive after Thanksgiving from the 60 sponsors, which includes both individuals and larger entities.

“Come back the week after Thanksgiving and this place will look totally different,” Stacey Coggins, FRC administrative assistant, said with a laugh.

For more information on how to help, call the FRC at 865-986-0518.

“There’s a number of ways that people can support the program,” Fox said. “We have people that donate brand new items that maybe they had just gone out and saw two of something, buy one get one free and they’ll give us one. This year we have a little bit a unique partnership with a local boutique that’s doing a toy drive.”

The drive is being held at Rush Clothing Boutique in Lenoir City.

“I think it allows our families to make decision for their financial welfare differently than they might if they didn’t have the overall assistance with the Christmas gifts,” Fox said. “... We certainly don’t want to be a Band-Aid for them at Christmastime to where they all say, ‘Yeah, the center will take care of it.’ That’s not the goal of the program. We hope that they could be self-sufficient and sustain their family within their own means, but we’re here in case they can’t.”