The Christmas holidays are a joyous time full of family togetherness, gift-giving, merrymaking and tree trimming, but they can also be a trying time for those in need. A number of local organizations welcome financial, volunteer and other kinds of assistance during the holidays and into the New Year, and the needs can be met with gifts large and small.
Teresa “Tita” Smith, the Executive Director of Catholic Charities of Orange County, notes that while financial contributions are especially welcome at the holidays, there are many opportunities to give in creative ways. Catholic Charities’ Christmas programs include:
- Adopt A Family. This program matches organizations with one of more than 250 needy families. The adopting organization provides gifts tailored for each family member.
- The Three Kings Party for children. Catholic Charities tries to fulfill the needs of those who weren’t part of the family adoption program with a Jan. 2 party at the Santa Ana-based Cantlay Center in celebration of Epiphany, the arrival of the Magi. The party is hosted by teen volunteers who help children select toys. Each child leaves with a bag of candy or plate of cookies.
- Alternative Christmas. This program tailors donors’ personal giving preferences to various types of needs. Donors, for example, can help pay for much-appreciated hygiene products for lonely seniors, sponsor camperships for needy children, or provide hungry families with holiday meals.
Catholic Charities’ programs need support in the form of financial contributions and gift cards, toys, household items, diapers, clothing and store gift certificates.
“Smaller organizations have pressing needs at the holidays,” Smith says. Some of the smaller local Catholic or church-related groups include: Casa Teresa, an Orange-based emergency center for pregnant women and new mothers; Mary’s Shelter, a Tustin organization serving pregnant teens; iHope, a San Clemente group serving the South Orange County homeless community; SOS, Share Ourselves, Costa Mesa’s only social service organization providing quality, comprehensive safety net services; and the Friendly Center in Orange, serving the area’s neediest families.
The Diocese of Orange requires support for its various ministries, including its service targeting the needs of the deaf and another serving incarcerated prisoners and their families. Shirl Giacomi, who, as the diocese’s Chancellor, oversees its ministries, notes that Catholic Relief Services (CRSFairTrade.org) offers a fair trade catalog offering crafts, fair trade coffee and chocolate, and art from regions as diverse as Ghana and Palestine, with the profits going directly to the producers and bypassing a middleman.
At 17 Orange County locations every day, Anaheim restaurateur Bruno Serrato, owner of the White House Restaurant, feeds 1,200 children who live with their families in local motels. In addition, he operates a program providing families with first- and last-month’s rent so that they can obtain stable housing.
“People like to give to charities where they know that it isn’t being eaten up by administrative fees,” Giacomi says. “They can give with confidence to this and know that their money is wisely spent.”
The Cathedral Food Pantry feeds the homeless on Thursday afternoons and evenings at the Pastoral Center in Garden Grove, Giacomi says. “It’s a respectful way of giving, because those in need are given a list of what’s in the pantry and they check off what they want.” The pantry requires both money and canned good donations throughout the year.
Parishioners also may wish to consider in-kind or financial donations to their local St. Vincent de Paul Society, which serves local families, or other parish-based services.
Nicole Suydam, CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank, says its mission to end hunger in Orange County is a year-round effort but during the holiday season financial support is particularly needed. “One dollar is equivalent to three meals,” Suydam says, “and 90 cents of every dollar we raise goes toward goods and services. We need funds for turkeys and holiday dinner items for needy families, and food drives are a great way for organizations and groups to help.”
The food bank partners with more than 340 member charities who feed the hungry at more than 470 locations through Orange County, including church pantries, shelters, senior centers, rehabilitation centers and homes for abused women and children.
Many other local charities targeting poor, homeless and other worthy individuals are in need of additional financial support at Christmastime, she says, including the Orange County Rescue Mission, South County Outreach, Families Forward, and Family Assistance Ministries, all of whom directly serve those in need.
Suydam says that 400,000 Orange County individuals are at risk of going hungry every month. “So while our spirit of generosity is heightened at this time of year, we want people’s interest in helping to continue throughout the year.”
“While there is a big push toward charitable giving at the holidays, charities are in need of assistance all year long,” Smith says. “Many folks make New Year’s resolutions to check in with the charity of their choice at another time of year, perhaps in association with another family holiday like Valentine’s Day, Easter or the Fourth of July.”