Help for the Holidays

ESCANABA – Local charities are seeing the increased need that comes with the winter months and holidays, but donations from community members have remained strong.

“People have been generous as always,” said Deacon Terry Saunders, building manager for the St. Vincent De Paul Society.

The Escanaba St. Vincent De Paul has seen steady donations this season for both its food pantry and thrift store. However, while donations have been steady the number of families in need has grown.

“The need is bigger. There’s more families than we have ever seen before coming in,” said Saunders, noting more people are coming to the St. Vincent De Paul Service Center than ever before in his eight years there.

St. Vincent De Paul is always in need of furniture and food donations – such as canned foods and sugar. Clean, good, usable beds, mattresses, and box springs are also needed.

“We run across a lot of people that can’t afford beds so they sleep on the floor, and that’s not acceptable for Americans,” said Saunders.

Saunders noted twin, full, and queen sized beds, mattresses, and box springs are particularly needed.

All Saints Conference of the St. Vincent De Paul Society, which serves the Gladstone area, has seen a slight uptick in donations this season.

“I believe that because the community recognizes what’s going on in Delta County the proceeds are coming in in somewhat larger amounts,” said John Balanda, treasurer of the All Saints Conference of the St. Vincent De Paul Society.

While donations are on the rise, so is need.

“We see the fact that the numbers that come through our doors are greater than in previous years,” said Balanda.

In November the All Saints Conference provided food for 191 people in 69 families. Donations for winter needs will continue throughout December but the Conference expects to provide around 130 baskets of food on Dec. 21.

“A lot of the food has been donated, but a lot of it still needs to be purchased,” said Balanda, adding both food and monetary donations are welcomed by the All Saints Conference.

Children in families that receive baskets will also receive a toy from the Marine Corps League’s Toys For Tots program.

“That’s also a blessing, that there is a program like the Marine Corps Toys for Tots Program,” said Balanda.

The Toys for Tots program is also run through donations from community members. There are between 15 and 17 locations in Delta County where residents can drop off toys for the program.

“I think (donations are) up a little bit from last year,” said Bill LaMarch, local coordinator for Toys for Tots.

Last year the program gave 2,159 children four toys apiece. LaMarch expects around 8,000 toys will be delivered to residents of Delta County this year.

“We’re in Delta County but if somebody’s outside of the area we’ll help them out – within limits,” said LaMarch, recalling a year when a family from California accidentally applied for assistance in Delta County.

Many of the families that are helped through the Toys For Tots program are recommended through groups like St. Vincent De Paul or the Salvation Army, however some requests for assistance are submitted electronically.

“My orders that come in on the computer have more than doubled this year,” said LaMarch.

While LaMarch is saddened by the amount of need in the community, he is proud of the way community members have stepped up and donated.

“I’m just thankful for our community being so darn nice,” he said.

While many charities are seeing increased donations with the greater need, the Salvation Army of Escanaba has experienced a particularly difficult donation season for its red kettle campaign. The campaign provides funding for Christmas and all year assistance programs.

“Our kettle donations are down about $10,000 from last year,” said Major Ralph Hansen of the Salvation Army.

Between 275 and 300 people are served each month by the Salvation Army in Escanaba. Programs vary but include housing assistance, food assistance, and other social services in the community.