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Hernando County charities face more needy kids, fewer holiday donations

Toys for Tots volunteers, from left, Connie Maxim, Jennifer McGowan, Ellen Ward and Bob Young sort donated items on Thursday. Program coordinator Bob Ross says that Toys for Tots received 100 more applications than last year and that an early December toy drive was down nearly 20 percent.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Toys for Tots volunteers, from left, Connie Maxim, Jennifer McGowan, Ellen Ward and Bob Young sort donated items on Thursday. Program coordinator Bob Ross says that Toys for Tots received 100 more applications than last year and that an early December toy drive was down nearly 20 percent.

With high unemployment in Hernando County, nonprofit organizations have seen a sharp increase this year in the number of children in need of holiday gifts.

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And most report a decline in the number of donations they have received.

With Christmas just a week away, the charities are scrambling to make sure every family in need is taken care of.

"People who normally donate to us are in the position of receiving this year," said Cathy Fouthard, social services director for the Salvation Army of Hernando County.

Fouthard has seen an increase in applications, many of them coming in late. So far, the organization is helping more than 400 families in Hernando County and is extending its deadlines to ensure that each family has a Christmas dinner and at least three presents per child, age 12 and under.

"Everybody is being very generous," Fouthard said, adding that despite the economic instability, people are still stepping up to the plate and helping their fellow residents.

Many charities have had to get creative.

"Maybe each child won't get as many gifts, but there will definitely be a gift for everyone — we're doing the best we can," said Bob Ross, program coordinator for the U.S. Marine Reserve Toys for Tots of Hernando County.

Toys for Tots this year received applications from 100 more families than last year, Ross said. Though overall toy donations were not down significantly, he said, the early December toy drive by U.S. Postal Service letter carriers was down nearly 20 percent.

On Saturday, the Marine Corps "elves" will invite moms and dads to choose from unwrapped toys that have been collected, and on Monday and Tuesday the corps will distribute leftover toys to various churches and organizations.

Though volunteers have picked up the boxes from most of the dropoff sites around the county, Ross said there is still time to donate new, unwrapped toys to the Marine Corps League headquarters at 8405 Sunshine Grove Road, west of Brooksville.

The story is much the same at the Christmas Angel Program of Hernando County.

"The gifts are coming in okay, but it's not heavy," said Mary Scarff, who operates the program with her husband, Bill.

Christmas Angel has received the same number of referrals for children in need of gifts, about 200. However, they stopped accepting requests for teenagers age 17 and 18.

"I'm not happy that we had to do that. We thought we'd drop our numbers back, but then we got more calls," Mary Scarff said.

The program receives referrals from the Hernando County school system.

Though many groups are finding ways to work around the economic downturn, others are starting to feel the crunch.

"This year is the worst we've ever had," said Linda Hoins, president of the Foster Parents Association of Hernando County.

Her organization has seen a steep decline in sponsorship by corporations and churches while the number of foster children in need of presents has increased by about 25 percent.

"Christmas is tough for foster children. They miss their parents, even though they may have been beaten or (the parents) may have not treated them right," said Hoins, who personally takes care of seven children.

Her support group collects gifts, many of them for teenagers, and they are accepting any and all donations right up until Christmas Eve.

Need is also up at the Jesus and Me Ministry.

"We're helping those who don't have and can't get for this holiday, the economy is so bad," said JoAnn Munford, organizer of JAM, who for the past 15 years has provided a Christmas party, complete with wrapped gifts, food and a chance to meet Santa, for children in need.

For the first time, Munford and fellow Love Your Neighbor board member Lisa Callea have put a "giving tree" in Callea's Rising Sun Cafe at 10 S Main St. in Brooksville, featuring names and ages of children. The tree will benefit families assisted by both JAM and Love Your Neighbor.

They are collecting gifts for 140 kids, with about 45 names still left on the tree as of midweek. They are taking donations until noon Monday.

"Whatever you can give," Munford said, "there's a need out there."

WHERE TO DONATE GIFTS

Several groups are still collecting

Some groups have already completed gift collections for the holiday season, but there are many still in need. Here is a list of organizations that are still collecting toys, food and other items to help underprivileged children and families:

• The Christmas Angel Program of Hernando County serves children from birth to age 16 who live and attend school in Hernando County and have been prescreened and determined to be in need. Sponsors, who can be individuals or businesses, can be faxed children's wish lists that include clothing sizes and hoped-for toys. The program also helps teenagers in need. Gift cards, food certificates, MP3 players and monetary donations are needed. Trees will be up until Christmas Eve at Beall's on Cortez Boulevard and at Pak Mail, 19514 Cortez Blvd. Donation jars are at Beverage 50, Complete Auto, Crowder Hardware and Rehab Kinetics. The program accepts computers (those that will run Microsoft Windows XP), used working TVs and VCRs as well. To help, call (352) 596-1552.

• The Salvation Army of Hernando County is seeking donations to help with Christmas dinners and gifts for children age 12 and under. Each food basket will include turkey or ham, stuffing, potatoes, vegetables, cranberries and fruit, and a pumpkin pie. Donations of money are needed to buy the meats and other perishables. Baskets will be distributed to families in need on Monday. Toys, gift cards, food and board games can be dropped off at 15464 Cortez Blvd., west of Brooksville. To help, call the Salvation Army at (352) 796-1186.

Love Your Neighbor and Jesus and Me Ministry will host a Holiday of Hope "Gifts of Love" Christmas Party on Monday that will be provided to families in need. Donations of gifts for children 14 and younger are still needed, including toys and clothing. All donations are needed by Monday. Gifts can be dropped off at the Rising Sun Cafe, 10 S Main St., Brooksville, where there will be a Christmas tree with gift requests. Checks are to be made payable to Love Your Neighbor. For information, call JAM at (352) 540-9571 or Lisa at (352) 428-9275 or (352) 848-0090.

• The YMCA School Age Program is sponsoring two holiday "giving trees" to assist families in need. As of press time there are still several names left on the tree. The trees are on display at the program office at 1236 Mariner Blvd. and at the Hernando County Family YMCA at 1300 Mariner Blvd., Spring Hill. Each tree has ornaments bearing a child's gift request. Donors must return the unwrapped gift, with the ornament attached, to the Family YMCA, 1300 Mariner Blvd., office no later than Sunday. Donations of gift cards are also needed. For information, call the office between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. weekdays at (352) 686-9622.

• The Marine Corps Reserve's Toys for Tots Program of Hernando County is still collecting donations of new, unwrapped toys for children age 6 months to 12 years at the reserve's headquarters, 8405 Sunshine Grove Road, west of Brooksville. Call (352) 597-7979 for information.

• The Foster Parent Association of Hernando County is in need of monetary donations, gift cards, new unwrapped toys, and gift cards for children up to age 18. Donations may be sent to P.O. Box 15195, Spring Hill, FL 34609. Call (352) 754-0377 for information. The association will accept donations until Dec. 24.

• The Dawn Center of Hernando County, Hernando County's domestic and sexual violence shelter, is in need of monetary donations, gift cards, pajamas, new unwrapped toys, and gift cards for children up to age 18. Children may be staying with a parent in the Dawn Center's safe house over the holiday season or be a part of the agency's outreach program. The Dawn Center will serve more than 200 families this season and will take donations until Wednesday. For information, call (352) 686-8759 or go online to www.dawncenter.org.

Hernando County charities face more needy kids, fewer holiday donations 12/17/09 [Last modified: Thursday, December 17, 2009 8:24pm]
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