Annette Hayden Havre Daily News firstname.lastname@example.org
A cold chill settled across the desk of a local social services worker last week as the number of local families reaching out for help this holiday season continued to grow. "We are just now finding out that a number of people seeking help during Christmas missed the deadline this year," said Trina Crawford, director of social services for Salvation Army in Havre, on Dec. 4. "The thing that really stands out is that we have seen more first-time people really needing help, people not in our system who have never asked for help before signing up this year. Other than the new people I am seeing, or those we have not helped since before 2004, there have been quite a few who missed the Angel Tree deadline." If everyone calling Salvation Army this month had been signed up for help this season, it would have totaled record numbers for the local office. "Right now we are about even with last year," Crawford said, “but I have heard heartbreaking stories this year." "Six or seven families are going through real extreme circumstance, things totally out of their control either medical- or job-related, all of them. Usually there are some, maybe two to three stories that break your heart, but these six to seven are having really hard times it is indicative of the economy." Salvation Army provides emergency services to people year-round, with the criteria that no other help is available to the individual or family. Emergency services dispensed include rental assistance, energy assistance, gas vouchers for folks needing to travel for medical reasons, limited medical expenses, help for a breakdown of transportation, lodging for those passing through town who find themselves stranded, fire victims and others depending on the case. "All help we give is emergency," Crawford said. "Salvation Army is the last place. It is after people have tried every other means and just can't find or help themselves. The holiday season is our biggest time, though. Some people only need help during the holidays." To meet this ongoing community need, Salvation Army annually operates the Angel Tree program. Give to the Angel Tree Crawford, who spends the year helping people when they are down and out, said it is especially difficult to turn people who missed the deadline for holiday assistance away. "We have to stick to our guidelines," she said. "Now it is too late to add names to the Angel Tree, because if the tags Aren't off (chosen by givers) by Dec. 12 we can't get things organized. All of the gifts need to be turned in by Dec. 15." More than 200 children, ages 0 to 12, were included in the Angel Tree program this year. The names are divided between three trees, one at Wal-Mart, one at Kmart and the other inside Holiday Village Mall. The children represented will likely receive no other gifts this year besides what the benefactor donates. If some of the names are not chosen or gifts not returned for that child, the Salvation Army uses funds from its annual budget. "Whatever names are left we will fill," Crawford said. "Every child on the Angel Tree will receive a gift but if we have to buy them it takes away from the funds we have for other social services. And our goal with the Angel Tree program is to give the community an opportunity to be involved and do the buying for those in need." Another opportunity to spread Christmas cheer and hope for the new year is the Salvation Army's Adopt a Family program. "Usually businesses do this program," said Crawford. "It is where the whole family receives gifts and a food basket and the donors personally delivery the packages. Right now we have 10 families adopted, but there are another 20 signed up in need." Crawford said after Dec. 16, when Angel Tree gifts are in, she will know if the economy has affected the community's ability to give this year. "Right now the Angel Tree seems to be about the same as last year, with the Red Kettle drive we may be a little behind last year. Ring the bell With Christmastime being the busiest season for Salvation Army's emergency services and other giving, it is also their most important time for fundraising. Salvation Army's Red Kettle Drive brings in a substantial percentage of its annual budget, and the organization relies on the communities participation. "Of all our income this is the biggest the ringing of the bells," Crawford said. "The income from the ringing of the bells is divided by 12. That income with that of the (Sally Ann's thrift) store determines how much we can do." Havre's Salvation Army's fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 29. The total operating budget for the last cycle showed income at $117, 684.88 with close to 80 percent spent on rescue and 20 percent going to administrative overhead. "Of the total income for last year, $30,000 came from the (second hand) store," Crawford said. "That includes vouchers given to people to use at the store. And any profit from the store goes to Salvation Army's emergency assistance." To raise money for the year ahead, Crawford organizes workers and volunteers for two-hour shifts of bell ringing at several locations in town. "We have Red Kettles at Wal-Mart, Kmart, Holiday Village Mall, and two places at IGA, so we need double the volunteers there," she said. "We try to use volunteers to ring the bell so we don't have to spend the money on paying wages. At Wal-Mart we do use paid employees because they have to stand outside in the deep cold, but everywhere else we use volunteers. The Atrium Mall has asked to host bell ringers in the past but we have just never had enough volunteers." To volunteer to ring a bell for the Red Kettle drive, or to make a monetary donation, call Trina Crawford at 265-6411. Any help will be appreciated. "We need each other Salvation Army would not be possible without the community's support," Crawford said.