Holiday-assistance program scrambling to help families

Enough with the white stuff. Organizers of United Way of Central Indiana’s holiday-assistance program are hoping for a green Christmas.

Less than a week before its final distribution of vouchers for needy families, United Christmas Service is $285,000 short of its seasonal fundraising goal—and about 3,100 families are still waiting for help. Another 250 have yet to be matched with donor groups who provide food, clothing and toys to brighten the holidays.

“We’re hopeful,” said program director Mary Jones, UWCI’s director of community projects. “Everyone’s still out there trying, and we’re moving closer.”

Caseworkers from more than 100 human-service organizations in United Way’s six-county region referred 8,180 families to United Christmas Service for help this year, she said.

As of Monday afternoon, 1,145 of the neediest families had been matched with donors (who tend to spend about $75 on each family member) and 3,678 had received vouchers worth $30 per person.

“It’s not a lot, but they wouldn’t have anything without it,” Jones said.

Wednesday is the deadline for donor groups to sign up; families that aren’t matched will move to the top of the voucher list. The vouchers, which can be redeemed at participating retailers, will be handed out until Dec. 23.

Most donations arrive after Thanksgiving, Jones said, a pattern that may be a factor in this year’s shortfall since the holiday was unusually late.

United Christmas Service has raised about $515,000 so far this year; the past few years it reached the $700,000 mark.

But even that fell short of the $800,000 goal. As a result, about 1,500 needy families did not receive assistance last year or the year before, Jones said.

The bigger the gap, the more families who won’t get help.  

“We’re sending emails to caseworkers, but there really isn’t much left out there right now,” she said.

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Visit United Christmas Service's website for information on how to help.

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