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Demand increasing for holiday assistance

12/12/2013

By JUDY SHERARD

jsherard@dailynews.net

The holiday season might be a time of bounty and plenty for many.

It's also a time for greater demand for those in need.

The familiar Salvation Army red kettles for donations are in some businesses, but bell-ringers calling attention to them are few.

April Chesney, newly appointed Ellis County Salvation Army coordinator, is looking for volunteers to do just that.

Chesney knows it's getting late in the season, but members of civic organizations and the Hays city commissioners have stepped in to help.

"The city commissioners have been awesome" in volunteering as bell-ringers, she said.

Even those with just an hour or two are encouraged to volunteer.

"Everything (donations) brought in the kettles stays in Ellis County," Chesney said.

Those who prefer to donate online can go to redkettle.org/EllisCounty.

So far this year, the Salvation Army has helped 330 individuals, approximately 100 more than all of 2012, she said.

Salvation Army requests go through First Call for Help of Ellis County.  

"You're always going to see a greater need during the holidays because people's resources go a different direction," said Linda Mills, First Call executive director.

They might spend money to provide Christmas for their kids and not have enough for other needs, or spend it on other needs and not have money for Christmas gifts, she said.

First Call generally provides emergency financial assistance -- mostly with rent and utilities, Mills said.

There's also a program for learning financial strategies.

"We try to show them how to budget and track their spending -- help set goals and help them reach them."

The organization also has a small food pantry to assist when other food pantries aren't accessible.

Though this will be her first holiday season at First Call, Mills expects need requests from transients trying to get home for the holidays to be higher.

Catholic Charities isn't equipped to respond to financial needs, but the organization does see an increase in those with other needs, said Father Bill Surmeier, a therapist.

People seek guidance and therapy for holiday anxiety about financial or relationship stress, and "from loss and grief," Surmeier said.

The Community Assistance Center is busy all year, but "this time of year it's worse," said Theresa Hill.

The center has been open for 30 years, and Hill and Laurie Mortinger have been the directors since 1996.

"According to our statistics, it's come up since last year," Hill said of the number asking for help.

The center has a food pantry and "garage sales" throughout the year, but the need is great during the holiday season.

They provide approximately 450 Christmas boxes filled with food, including either a ham or turkey, potatoes, fresh fruit, canned vegetables, milk and eggs.

This time of year, the Community Assistance Center receives many food donations, but money also is needed.

"The community does do a pretty good job of providing through different programs ... especially at Christmas time," Mills said.

To volunteer as a bell-ringer or to donate to First Call, call (785) 623-2800. The Community Assistance Center is located at 12th and Oak in downtown Hays.