The 2011 Holiday Family Adoption Program, which kicks off Friday with an initial list of individual and family needs published in The Daily Reporter, aims to address this need.
The annual collaborative effort between Upper Des Moines Opportunity, the newspaper and generous area families, businesses and service groups provides seasonal gifts for individuals and families alike.
According to UDMO Director Anita Jorgensen, the number of Clay County families indicating hardships has increased over the past few years. She cited an October report for the agency, which covers lower-income to middle-income folks, which details 379 families, or 701 people, receiving assistance at least once in the form of various services offered at UDMO.
"The numbers are increasing and the number of times per month people come in, I believe, is increasing also," Jorgensen said. "The need is huge when you have these kind of numbers coming in during one month's time. If you start putting this in a context of what the population of Clay County is, and we're seeing these kind of numbers in one month, well, that's saying there is quite a few people within the county who are hurting or struggling. And, sometimes they just need an extra little push -- and this program could be that thing -- to get through."
The holiday season can also cause a higher stress level for parents to provide Christmas for their children. The Holiday Family Adoption Program can alleviate some of this pressure.
"To not be able to provide that for your child is extremely stressful, perhaps depressing. When you put that stress on a family and parents, there is often a long-term effect. The children pick up on this," Jorgensen said. "Let's remove some of the stress from some of our families in any way we can until we can all get through this. We will get through this and things will get better. But, for now, things are pretty tough and people are trying. They're just not always able to get out from under immediately. So, they just need a little help for now."
The "help" needed results from difficulties such as illness or death within a family, work hours being cut and/or larger bills on incomes which have not increased comparably. Some of the individuals and families taking part in this year's adopt-a-family program simply come in to inquire about other services offered to address their specific stresses.
"We do have a large percentage who have had some particular crisis in their family. It could be an illness, death, financial crisis or it could be some particular thing that's going on within the family and they just need the extra little help. It does make the difference in most cases of whether they are going to receive Christmas or not," Jorgensen said. "We had a family in here Monday, where both parents are ill and unable to work. When you look at these people who have so little, yet they feel they have enough, it really makes you want to reach out to them and say, 'No, it's OK to do this.' So, yes, we do have a need in Clay County."
"Midwestern people are a little bit different," she continued. "Many of them will say, 'Give it to someone who needs it more.'"
The Holiday Family Adoption Program, Jaycees' Tree of Joy, Kiwanis and other groups work with Upper Des Moines, which coordinates all those in need in Clay County and matches them anonymously with programs. This means there is no duplication of services and no one is left out.
"The beauty of this program is it's a community-coming-together thing," Jorgensen said of the Holiday Family Adoption Program. "(Program donors and volunteers) all do it for their own reasons. They don't do it for public recognition, because all of the work is done in the background. ... They are doing it for the pure reason of giving, caring and wanting to make a difference. That is what I love about this program."
* The first 25 families will be highlighted in the Friday edition of The Daily Reporter. Those choosing to "adopt" an individual or family courtesy of this holiday program are asked to deliver their presents the mornings of Saturday, Dec. 10 and Saturday, Dec. 17 to The Depot building on the Clay County fairgrounds. Deliveries will occur Sunday, Dec. 18.