Charities: Increased need met with increased holiday giving

Johnny Roush talks to the volunteers behind the food counter as he and several other volunteers from California helped to serve lunch at the Salvation Army on Christmas Day. Several of the people serving food are from House of Prayer and House of Refuge churches in Jefferson City and one from Westphalia. They delivered the food to people seated at the tables and packaged up the leftovers so the patrons could take the food with them.

Johnny Roush talks to the volunteers behind the food counter as he and several other volunteers from California helped to serve lunch at the Salvation Army on Christmas Day. Several of the people serving food are from House of Prayer and House of Refuge churches in Jefferson City and one from Westphalia. They delivered the food to people seated at the tables and packaged up the leftovers so the patrons could take the food with them. Photo by Julie Smith.

After a whirlwind holiday season, coordinators of holiday charity drives reported a promising increase in giving, compared with last year, a fact that comes with one caveat: an increase in local need.

Starla Harper administrates a relay center at Capital City Christian Church for Operation Christmas Child, an effort of the Samaritan’s Purse organization that distributes boxes of toys, school supplies and hygiene items to impoverished children internationally.

“It’s reaching out to children who are less fortunate than people in the U.S. The boxes are the only things some people will get for Christmas. They’re the necessities we take for granted,” Harper said.

Celebrating its 20th anniversary, the Samaritan’s Purse global project anticipates collecting 9.8 million boxes this season.

While Harper collected 1,037 boxes compared with the previous year’s 1,100, she remains optimistic about the figures, she said.

According to Harper, more relay centers have opened up in the Mid-Missouri area in order to increase convenience for those delivering boxes, an issue which decreases the number of deliveries to the Jefferson City location specifically. But she believes the total number of donated boxes has increased in the area after positive conversations with coordinators of similar centers.

“We’re all experiencing the same thing. The number, overall, is up this year. Everybody seemed really enthused about it,” she said.

“(The program) … reaches out to people who don’t know the Word and gives them the opportunity to get to know Christ,” Harper said.

After five years of work in the holiday undertaking, Harper has seen an upturn in volunteerism with the ministry and believes social media have proliferated awareness of Operation Christmas Child, she said.

“Social media allows the conversation to open up. More people know about it and are sharing it with other people. The longevity (of the program) is very good,” Harper said.

On the Samaritan’s Purse website, donors may learn where their gift went at “Follow Your Box” and can still build a box, though physical collections have ended for the year.

As director of the local Samaritan Center, Marylyn DeFeo has detected an enormity of benevolence to supplement immense local need, she said.

“The bills are enormous, but the outpouring is amazing and wonderful. Those who can share are sharing,” she said.

Two central programs dominate the Samaritan’s Center holiday charity efforts: the Christmas adoption and the Santa’s Workshop programs, which both provide Christmas gifts to those with an inability to purchase them, DeFeo said.

According to DeFeo, 459 families and 39 seniors enrolled in the Christmas adoption program.

Despite a greater level of need, “…everything went smooth as glass,” she said.

DeFeo believes visual reminders of destitution resonate with Jefferson City residents on a daily basis.

“I think the message has gotten out. People have driven by (the Samaritan Center), and they see the long lines. I think it moves people,” she said.

In regards to the outlook of giving in future years, DeFeo harbors no concern whether or not community giving will match local need, she said.

“In the charity business, you have to trust in people and trust in God, that He will whisper in the ears of His people. As long as there’s a need, people will continue to give,” DeFeo said.

Repeated attempts to reach officials with the Salvation Army for this story were unsuccessful.

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