By Christina Whiting
If you look at the Spirit Tree at Ulmer’s, you’ll see tags decorated by children in the shape of Christmas trees. On the back is the age of a child and what they want for Christmas. And, while you may think the majority of requests would be for the latest toys and gadgets, most requests are surprisingly “responsible.”
Requests range from bed sheets for a 13-year-old boy, to “warm socks” for another. Many teens asked for things like clothes, hats and gloves, and a request for diapers and wipes for an 8-month-old baby girl shows just how much these children are in need of the basics.
“We have a large shortfall in donations this year,” said Share the Spirit program coordinator Shari Daughtery. “We need people to buy gifts for children, as well as monetary donations.”
Every year, handmade ornaments noting children’s Christmas wishes adorn Giving Trees at local businesses. Each child gets two wishes. However, of the 650 ornaments placed on trees this year, only about half have been removed. This means, currently, more than 100 local children may not receive a gift at all this year. Or – it may mean that, in a family with more than one child, one child may get two gifts, one child may get one gift and one child may get none.
Financial support is also needed to buy food for the 200 to 215 baskets Share the Spirit builds each year. Baskets include everything a family will need for Christmas dinner, including turkey, and staples like rice and potatoes.
“Our goal for financial support this year was $5,000,” Daugherty said. “As of right now, we have received just $600, plus a promise of $500 more. This leaves us still in need of $3,900 to $4,400.” On Friday morning, Share the Spirit volunteers will go shopping. At that time, they’ll figure out how much the food is going to cost and if they have enough money to buy all the groceries.
“If we don’t have enough money, we’ll have to cut things from the basket like eggs and butter,” Daugherty said. “And if there are ornaments left on the trees, we won’t be able to buy the presents that every one of those ornaments represents for a child.”
Every year, Share the Spirit holds a spaghetti feed fundraiser, and the money raised is used to purchase food for the baskets. Orders for last week’s spaghetti feed were down by half.
“We raised $7,400 this year, which is $4,500 less than last year and $5,000 less than in both 2010 and 2011,” Daugherty said. “We’re not sure why. Maybe there was a conflict with something else going on in town or perhaps people just weren’t ready for the holiday season to kick off.”
Since hitting the 200 family mark five years ago, food has cost Share the Spirit somewhere between $10,000 and $12,000.
“At this point, we don’t have it,” Daugherty said. “And because food is more important than gifts, we will use funds set aside to buy gifts on food, instead.” Daugherty said the last time Share the Spirit was this desperate was in 2008, when a late Thanksgiving marked a decline in donations. She said she believes that to be the case again this year.
“People aren’t ready for Christmas because Thanksgiving just happened and they think they have lots of time to help,” she said. “They don’t realize they’re running out of time.”
Share the Spirit provides holiday meals and gifts for families in need in Homer, Ninilchik, Anchor Point and the head of Kachemak Bay, as well as across the bay. Share the Spirit was formed in 1992 by representatives from human services agencies and churches in response to the end of the Homer Emergency Life Program. The program was run by a local ministers association.
“The ministers association had been trying for several years to organize the random food basket-giving that had always gone on in the area,” Daugherty explained. “One group did three baskets, another five, and yet another would do 10, and so on. This group sharing of tasks was ineffective.”
For years, a group of four individuals gathered in Daugherty’s parents’ kitchen to make spaghetti. They would then hold a feed and donate all the funds raised to Reverend Smith and the HELP crew. The money went to help pay for supplies for the baskets, and Share the Spirit was born. There is still time to help — 48 hours to be exact. On Friday, Dec. 20, the Share the Spirit team of volunteers will gather at Homer High School from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to put baskets of food and gifts together. Donations of ham, chicken, children’s gifts and financial support can be dropped off at the school during this time.
How you can help:
1. Take an ornament or two from one of the Giving Trees, purchase the gifts noted on them and drop the gift wrapped presents under the tree at Wells Fargo before 5 p.m. this Thursday. Gifts may also be brought to the school on Friday. Giving Trees are located at Alaska USA Federal Credit Union, First National Bank, Homer Bookstore, Kachemak Gear Shed, Timeless Toys, Total Office Products, Ulmers and Wells Fargo.
2. Make a monetary gift to Wells Fargo. Donations can be mailed year-round to Box 3218, Homer.
3. Donate a ham or chicken by dropping it off at the high school on Friday.
4. Volunteer by wrapping gifts, sorting food donations and packing baskets at the high school on Friday. Volunteers with strong backs and vehicles are needed to help transport boxes under cover. Meet Share the Spirit volunteers at Safeway on Friday at 7 a.m. to transport bulk food to the school. “In 2008, the community of Homer stepped up at the last minute and we had enough money to take care of our families,” Daugherty said. “We’re counting on the community again this year.”
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