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Thousands of disadvantaged children and their families will have a merry Christmas this year, thanks to the generous giving of area volunteers.
The annual Catawba County Christmas Bureau expects to serve more than 3.400 children and their families this holiday season, providing them with food, clothes and gifts during a two-day distribution at the American Legion Fairgrounds in Hickory.
The Bureau is comprised of many area organizations, including Catawba County United Way, The Salvation Army, Catawba County Department of Social Services, area school systems and Christian ministries.
"It really is a community effort," said Sylvia Long, United Way Community Impact director and Teen Christmas coordinator.
The Bureau served 1,285 households in 2009, which included 2,704 children and 383 teens. This year, the need increased. The Bureau received about 200 more applicants this year, and as a result, about 200 more people will be served in 2010.
Participating organizations worked year-round to collect and organize gift items, which will be donated Dec. 13 and 14 to needy families in the community.
Long said many volunteers offered to serve during the upcoming distribution days, but the Bureau needs monetary donations as the big event approaches.
"Monetary donations go the furthest," she said.
The Christmas Bureau has partnerships with area department stores, which allow Bureau volunteers to purchase clothing or gift items at a discounted rate.
"When someone gives us a monetary donation, we've got retail stores who are giving us deep discounts," Long said. "Twenty dollars may not seem like a lot, but we can get three clothing items for $20."
Monetary donations to the Catawba County United Way are tax deductible.
Any donations, however big or small, are appreciated, Long said.
An anonymous donor gave the Bureau almost 150 sweatshirts this week, and those sweatshirts will be organized by size for the upcoming distribution days.
Families served by the Christmas Bureau fill out applications prior to acceptance into the program. The applications outline their needs, as well as possible gift ideas and clothing sizes for children in the family.
The Bureau tries to secure clothing for every child it will serve, including hard-to-find sizes or large and small items.
Rose Arant, a Christmas Bureau volunteer, organized a spreadsheet of all needed clothing sizes for the distribution day.
"So, when that mom comes up and says, 'I need a (size) 42,' we can say, 'We've got it,'" Arant said.
Gift items for the Christmas Bureau usually cost about $10, and can include toys for children ages birth to 16 years old. Contact Capt. Michael Harris with the Salvation Army at (828) 322-3066 to provide toys and clothing for children ages birth through 12.
In addition to smaller gifts, the Bureau also provides larger-ticket items, such as bicycles, for children. These items, because of their costs, are hard to come by, Long said.
She suggested businesses or other large groups of people take up a collection to purchase a bicycle, so the cost burden doesn't fall on one person. The Teen Center alone had 22 requests for bicycles this Christmas, and that doesn't include younger children hoping for a bike from Santa.
To volunteer with the Christmas Bureau Bike Program, contact Capt. Wayne LaRose, with the Hickory Fire Department, at (828) 323-7523.
Other commonly requested teen items include country music CDs, DVDs, makeup kits and sports equipment. To assist with the Teen Center, contact Long at (828) 327-6851.
Area Christian ministries will provide vouchers for participating families to receive food during the holidays. To help with the food ministry, contact the Rev. Robert Silber, with Eastern Catawba Cooperative Christian Ministry, at (828) 465-1708.
For additional volunteer information for the Catawba County Christmas Bureau, contact a participating agency or contact Cheryl Abee at (828) 324-4357.
Catawba County Christmas Bureau agencies
Catawba County Schools, Hickory City Schools, Newton-Conover Schools, Catawba County Department of Social Services, The Salvation Army, Hickory Fire Department, Greater Hickory Cooperative Christian Ministry, Catawba County United Way, Volunteer Center Information and Referral, Safe Kids of Catawba County, United Hmong Association, Toys for Tots and Eastern Catawba Cooperative Christian Ministry.