November 23, 2013

Local Christmas charities struggle with calendar quirk

Overall levels of charitable giving have been going up, but area volunteers say a shortened holiday season could cost some children their merry Christmas.

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling mhhetling@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

Salvation Army volunteers in Augusta are ringing bells in parking lots that grow colder by the day, encouraging shoppers to drop their change into their collection pots.

click image to enlarge

GIFT GIVING: Alexis Rancourt, 8, left, and Lauren Tyler, 8, both third-graders at China Primary School, help pack gift boxes for poor area children at the Maine Children’s Home for Little Wanderers on Tuesday.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

click image to enlarge

HOLIDAY HELP: Dawn Lincoln, of Linconville, volunteers her time to pack holiday gift boxes for poor children in the area at the Maine Children’s Home for Little Wanderers.

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

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Charitable Christmas gift organizations

The Maine Children’s Home for Little Wanderers is accepting donations at its office at 93 Silver St. in Waterville. For more information, contact the agency at 873-4253 or www.mainechildrenshome.org.

The Capital Regional Salvation Army is accepting donations as its office at 17 Marketplace Drive in Augusta. For more information, contact the agency at 623-3752 or www.use.salvationarmy.org/augusta.

Operation Christmas Child has three area collections centers open through Monday. For more information, contact the group at 518-437-0690 or www.samaritanspurse.org/occ. The collection centers are:

Penney Memorial Baptist Church

393 Water Street, Augusta

Sunday: noon-4 p.m.

Monday: 9-11 a.m.

Calvary Bible Baptist Church

150 Grand Army Road, Whitefield

Sunday: 2-4 p.m.

Monday: 11 a.m.-6 p.m.

Damariscotta Baptist Church

4 Bristol Road, Damariscotta

Sunday: noon-2 p.m.

Monday: 9 a.m.-noon

In Waterville, at the Maine Children’s Home for Little Wanderers, workers are packing boxes full of clothes, toys and books.

Area churches involved with an international program called Operation Christmas Child are assembling thousands of shoeboxes full of clothing, toys, and biblical verses.

These groups, and many more like them that hope to bring holiday cheer to families in need during the holiday, ask donors to help fund their efforts every year.

The good news is that overall levels of charitable giving are up this year and expected to keep growing annually as the United States continues to recover from the economic recession that began in 2008, according to an annual report on giving by Giving USA, a national group that tracks charity trends. In 2012, organization reported that giving rose by 3.5 percent to $316 billion over the previous year, and it has grown every year since 2009, even when adjusted for inflation.

The bad news is that individual organizations are still subject to local uncertainties, and a quirk of the calendar may spell trouble for area charities that are trying to brighten children’s holidays.

Christmas calendar problem

People tend not to think about Christmas donations until Thanksgiving is behind them, according to Maj. Karin Dickson, of the Capital Region Salvation Army in Augusta, which oversees efforts in the region, including Waterville.

Dickson said most retailers don’t allow Salvation Army volunteers to ring their bells for charity until Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.

The difference between this year and last year on the calendar is subtle, but significant.

In 2012, Thanksgiving fell on Nov. 22, which is 32 days before Christmas. But this year, Thanksgiving falls on Nov. 28, just 26 days before the holiday.

That makes it the shortest possible holiday season, a phenomenon that hasn’t happened since 2002 and that won’t happen again until 2019.

Losing six full days of fundraising from last year makes it difficult for the Salvation Army to fill its goal of bringing food and presents to about 300 families in the Waterville and Augusta areas.

In addition to presents and food, this year, the Capital Region hopes to raise $140,000, the same amount it took in last year. As of Friday, however, Dickson said, only about $5,000 had come in, which she said is far behind the Nov. 22 total from last year.

“This year, because Thanksgiving is coming later, it’s costing us a bit of worry,” Dickson said. “We’re behind last year’s. We haven’t had people come forward to volunteer. People don’t think about this until after Thanksgiving.”

Some of that money goes to round out the Salvation Army’s Christmas present program, while some will go to heat and rental assistance for families in crisis, such as victims of a home fire.

Compressed timelines

The shortened holiday season is also bad news for the Maine Children’s Home for Little Wanderers, where Christmas Program Director Cristen Sawyer said timeliness is everything.

Every year, the group packs boxes with toys, clothing and books for about 1,600 children in the Waterville and Augusta areas.

The group’s volunteers begin packing in October, and their timeline calls for every box to be packed by Dec. 6, leaving enough time to distribute to families in the two cities on Dec. 11 and 12.

Sawyer’s impression is that, during recent years, the total level of giving has gone up as the economy has improved; but every year, the group struggles to communicate its timeline, which ends just when people are beginning to focus on Christmas.

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