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by Stacey Paretti Rase
For most northshore children, their first thought upon waking this Christmas morning will be, “What toys did Santa bring?” Sadly, many others will wake up to realize that Santa hasn’t brought anything at all. It’s a heartbreaking fact that many needy families in our area will not be able to provide holiday gifts for their children this year. Thankfully, one local non-profit organization has made it its duty to step in and help.
Project Christmas began in 2002, founded as a coalition of public agencies, businesses, churches, civic organizations and individuals who work together to increase their capacity to provide gifts and food for the less fortunate in St. Tammany Parish. Over the years, their combined efforts have helped to provide Christmas packages to thousands of families in the northshore community that have a true need. In past years, the organization collected hundreds of donated gifts and foodstuffs at distribution centers on each end of St. Tammany Parish. Volunteers would then assemble the gifts and food items to be presented to families at a distribution site just before Christmas day. This year will be different, however, as both volunteers and space for collecting gift donations are scarce.
“We had trouble finding distribution sites in both east and west St. Tammany,” says Monnie Greer, Project Christmas president. “We just don’t have the space to take in all the toys, food and gifts that we have in the past. And we don’t have enough people to organize it all.”
But Greer says the group’s members are not going to let those difficulties keep them from their mission. “Many of our volunteers were affected by the storm last year, so we had to put the program on hold,” she notes. “We’re determined to have Project Christmas this year. It’s too important not to.”
The group decided to modify the program this holiday season to simply distribute gift cards to needy families so that they can purchase the toys, gifts and food themselves. With this new approach, the program’s success will rely entirely on the community’s generosity in offering cash donations. The organization is seeking donations from schools, public and private agencies, businesses, churches and families who come together to support other families—truly anyone who wishes to make Christmas more meaningful for themselves and others.
Just who does Project Christmas help? It could be a senior citizen living on a fixed income; a single mother of five children, with a minimum wage income, who is struggling to just put food on the table this holiday season; a father who has suffered an accident and doesn’t have the funds to provide gifts for his children because he is waiting for his disability income to begin; or perhaps a family who is still suffering the effects of last year’s storm. Project Christmas aims to help them all in their time of need by providing the means to make this holiday season a happy one.
Applications for eligibility were accepted in October. Each applicant qualified for the program by providing necessary documentation and proof of income. The organization is thorough in cross-referencing church, agency and other charitable group listings of needy families throughout the parish to avoid duplication.
For more information on donating to Project Christmas, contact Greer at (504) 577-0642 or log on to www.projectchristmas.org.