Christmas spirit in full swing

The Christmas season traditionally starts after Thanksgiving, but for the Catawba County Christmas Bureau, the holiday season is here.
The bureau kicked off its annual project to ensure as many families as possible have holidays filled with joy, gifts and laughter.
"It is this time at Christmas that we know means a lot to children, especially low-income children," said Jennie Connor, Christmas Bureau chairwoman. "Children want to know that they're just like every other child."
And the Christmas Bureau helps make that desire a reality. The project is a collaboration of many area agencies, including the Salvation Army, the Hickory Fire Department, the Catawba County United Way, public school systems, area Christian ministries and many other volunteer organizations. The agencies work together to identify families in need and collect toys, food and clothing items to distribute among families.
The bureau will distribute the collected items Dec. 13-14 at the American Legion Fairgrounds from 9 a.m to noon and 1-5 p.m.
The bureau served 1,285 households and 3,087 children during the 2009 holiday season, and this year that number will increase. Volunteers received about 200 more applicants this year, and as a result, about 200 more people will be served in 2010.
The Rev. Robert Silber, of Eastern Catawba Cooperative Christian Ministry, served on a committee to select families served this year by the Christmas Bureau.
"As director of ECCCM, I live with this daily," Silber said of the community's need for financial assistance in a tough economy. "Everybody really needs to do this one year and have their eyes opened. There are families, much like us, who were doing quite nicely yesterday. Then they lost their jobs, and they still have the same expenses."
Silber said many of this year's applicants never needed to ask for help before, which demonstrates the severity of the economic downturn and its effect in Catawba County.
The Christmas Bureau needs volunteers to help during the December distribution days. Hmong and Spanish translators are also needed.
If people can't donate their time, they can choose to contribute cash for volunteers to shop for food, toys or clothing items; donate printing or postage materials; or adopt a family with a cash contribution for their holiday needs.
Hickory firefighters help collect, purchase and assemble bicycles for the hundreds of children who dream of riding a new bike on Christmas Day.
Capt. Wayne LaRose of the Hickory Fire Department said every year he hears stories about how the Christmas Bureau touched children and their families.
"It's amazing the stories you hear," LaRose said. "Everyone is so thankful."
The bureau welcomes any donations, and volunteers are asked to call the Catawba County United Way Volunteer Center at (828) 324-4357.
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