Volunteer Center brings holiday cheer to families

By Isha Jackson
NCCU Staff Writer
the Durham VOICE

Continuing its 35-year tradition, the Volunteer Center of Durham is once again matching people who wish to give with those in need through its Share your Christmas program.

The center matches individuals or groups interested in donating new gifts to disadvantaged Durham residents referred by a Durham County Department of Social Services social worker.

The program is co-sponsored by Durham County DSS, the Volunteer Center of Durham, and the Herald-Sun.

“The Share your Christmas Program was started back in 1970,” says Janelle Henry, program coordinator of DSS volunteer programs. “The program was set up so that we can help families who are in need during the holidays have a Christmas.”

There are over 1000 cases this year and Share your Christmas hopes to get sponsorships for all of them. “We don’t want anyone to be left out,” says Henry.

Families with children and elderly or disabled individuals are matched with sponsors who are willing to support the family with new gifts they are unable to provide themselves.

In 2009, sponsors donated a combined total of more than $240,000 helping the Share Your Christmas Program provide gift items to more than 4000 residents in need.

“The idea is to have those families who have been identified in need by Social Services, sponsored by community citizens giving them new wrapped presents that the family has requested from a list, so they can have their own holiday celebration,” says Corinne Everett Belch, Director of Volunteer Services.

According to both Henry and Belch the community is the programs main supply for support. “We have fantastic response from the community,” says Belch. “It’s always an inspiring event to be a part of. Just to see so many people call every day that want to help — some have specific requests, and it’s really touching to see,” says Belch.

“The sponsor will tell you that maybe they were struggling with having a family when they were younger, and would really love to help a single mom with four kids, and we say, ‘ok we have a family for you,‘“ says Belch.

There are ways YOU can help the Share Your Christmas Program, though either donations, sponsorship, or just being a volunteer.

According to the Volunteer Center of Durham website, the criteria for being a sponsor include:

• Sponsors must purchase new gift items for the selected families they agree to sponsor.

• Sponsors are asked to spend a minimum of $50 for every person they agree to sponsor. (For example—if you agree to sponsor a family of four you are responsible for spending a minimum of $200 for entire family on new gift items)

• Sponsors will be provided a complete gift wish list for the family or individual they agree to sponsor.

• Sponsors have the option of delivering gifts directly to the families or back to DSS. If they deliver back to DSS, the referring social worker will make sure the gifts are delivered directly to the family, on behalf of the sponsors.

The Share Your Christmas Program is also in need of volunteers for the holidays for the following positions:

Profile writer volunteers are needed to write brief synopses of the families in need. Complete profiles are sent and printed in the Herald-Sun on a daily basis.

Volunteers are needed to answer the Share Your Christmas phone line taking sponsorship calls and helping to match sponsors with clients in need. (Volunteers are not responsible for soliciting donations or sponsorships…. just for matching sponsors who call in with clients in need).

Group volunteer shoppers are needed to shop on behalf of families that were not sponsored with reserved funds donated by community donors. Legitimate and official groups (universities, churches, fraternities, and sororities, etc.) are needed to shop on behalf of our clients. Volunteer shoppers will shop the week of December 6th.

For more information regarding financial contributions or for information on how you or your group can become involved with the Share Your Christmas Program please call 919-613-5101.

The Volunteer Center of Durham staffs a special phone line Monday-Friday, Nov. 8- Dec. 10 from 9:00 to 4:00.