Holidays Are for Helping: Gift of Warmth Project Underway at St. Francis Center

Donors Requested for ‘Giving Tree’ Wishes
Nov 15, 2017
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

The holidays are a great strain on thousands throughout Southern Ocean County – not just for the homeless and chronically poor, but also for working families who exceed the income threshold for assistance but barely manage to make ends meet month to month. These are neighbors, classmates and co-workers.

On the heels of the Thanksgiving Project that concludes a month of food collection for families in need, the Human Concerns Department at the St. Francis Community Center in Brant Beach is now ramping up the Gift of Warmth Project, which provides hundreds of families with essential items such as coats, gloves, socks, snow boots and bedding.

A Christmas tree in the lobby of the community center went up on Nov. 3, according to Amy McKenzie, director of family support services. Each gift tag hanging on the tree corresponds to a child’s wish, she explained. In a given season, the center provides the gift of warmth to about 800 kids, “so it’s quite a large project,” she said. Originally it was a toy drive, before the focus changed to items of necessity.

Each child in each family (be it one or nine) can make up to three wishes, which adds up to far more wish tags than one tree can accommodate. Luckily, additional Gift of Warmth trees are located on Long Beach Island and the mainland, at: Murphy’s Market in Beach Haven; Ocean Medical (the offices of Drs. Todd and Cynthia Schmoll) in Beach Haven Gardens; Farias Surf and Sport in Ship Bottom; Causeway Chiropractic (Dr. Christopher Bott) in Ship Bottom; Scojo’s in Surf City; and Old Causeway restaurant in Manahawkin.

Other businesses help out, as well. Home Depot, for example, takes care of about 10 families, she said. “So the whole community gets involved.”

Any person who can afford to give is encouraged to visit one of the trees, select one or more tags, purchase the items requested and return the new, unwrapped items to the community center by Dec. 8. On Dec. 13 and 14, a distribution center will be set up at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Beach Haven for families to come pick up the gifts.

During the 2016-17 year, Human Concerns programs helped 4,000 unduplicated individuals, not just members of the parish, but of the community at large, McKenzie said, whether with food and personal hygiene items through the food pantry, or with assistance to pay back rent or utility bills. Some clients use the services on a monthly basis in addition to welfare and food stamps, some are elderly and on fixed, limited incomes, while others just use it once or occasionally to supplement and fill in the gaps.  —V.F.

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