Capital Region

Capital Region charities adjust holiday giving plans during COVID

Unwrapped toys provided by donors ready for distribution from Northern Rivers in Albany for the holiday season.

Unwrapped toys provided by donors ready for distribution from Northern Rivers in Albany for the holiday season.

The holiday is a time for giving, often that means giving to a local charity to help others who are less fortunate.

As requests for help have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, charities throughout the Capital Region have pivoted to address the needs of their families, and have found new ways to solicit donations during the holiday season.

Things of My Very Own in Schenectady is a fast response charity serving 11 counties and those children who have experienced abuse, neglect or live in an at-risk situation.

Its mission is to intervene once it gets a referral and assist that child and family until they reach a safer, more suitable situation – providing needed clothes and personal hygiene products in less than four hours.

Each year the charity uses two types of wish tags, promoted through local business partners – want tags and urgent need tags.

“We’ve had a record number of UN (urgent need) tags this year and it’s because people are really struggling,” said Rayn Bonice, CEO and founder of Things of My Very Own. “People were out of work for significant amounts of time and you don’t come back from that.”

Financial troubles, she said, do not end once an employee returns to work after months of unemployment. “You still have the hole,” Bonice said. “Right now, we are more focused on needs.”

COVID-19 has also impacted the volume of families the charity can help this holiday season.

“We’re not serving as many people, instead (we) chose to focus on more needs per child so that we can get a certain number out of crisis situations,” Bonice said. The organization will help 3,000 kids this year, compared with the typical 4,000 to 5,000 annually.

It’s a matter of manpower limitations at the 249 Green St. headquarters in Schenectady.

“Our sponsor-a-child in crisis program is typically run by 500 volunteers,” Bonice said. “Due to safety precautions, we’re only allowed to have five volunteers in the building at a time.”

Instead of the 10 employees and typical 500 volunteer helpers, the organization is completing its mission with just eight employees and five volunteers.

The work is also just beginning for Bonice and her staff.

“Starting on Christmas Eve, going for about a week or two after, that’s when there are more incidents of abuse than any other time of year,” she said. “There are more domestic violence cases, parents and guardians who are stressed out and take it out on who is in the home, which happens to be these vulnerable children.

“Over the years we’ve heard stories how children had to retreat to safety on Christmas Eve, they woke up to no gifts and thought that because they told what had happened, they had made the naughty list.”

Things of My Very Own solved that problem by holding on to gifts and necessities for after the holidays.

“We tell the children that we’ve coordinated with Santa and if Santa can’t find them, he leaves their gifts in the safest place he knows, which happens to be our crisis intervention center,” she said. “They can pick up the gifts when they’re ready and there is no need to go back to their unsafe home.”

Northern Rivers Family of Services, encompassing the Northeast Parent and Child Society and Parsons Child and Family Center, made its holiday giving program as normal as possible with some online improvements.

“We spent the whole year securing resources that we needed to fill those basic needs for our families and our clients,” Director of Development Stephanie Douglas said. “What we did do, we switched from asking people to host large collections because we know offices aren’t as populated as they used to be, and churches aren’t getting together with large congregations anymore.

“We created an online registry, like a wedding registry website that actually detailed specific wishes from all our kids,” she said. “That way we could better utilize technology, so that donors could log online and say Timmy got those gifts already, so I’m going to buy them for Suzie.”

Using and Amazon’s wish list offerings, Northern Rivers was able to fulfill the needs of its 120 teenage residents in Albany and Schenectady as well as more than 1,000 children through its community services program.

Once all of the incoming shipments were unpacked, Northern Rivers converted its Albany board room into a holiday lobby.

“Our clinicians drove in from some of our outlying areas and ‘shopped’ for their respective families.

The move to the internet proved fruitful for Northern Rivers.

“People got creative,” Douglas said. “Businesses in lieu of having parties, pooled their money and purchased gifts.

“Families in lieu of buying gifts for each other, all purchased gifts from our wish lists. People really came out of the woodwork.”

The lists were 100 percent fulfilled and the Amazon wish lists heavily purchased.

Franklin Community Center in Saratoga Springs saw its requests increase this holiday season, but also received a holiday surprise as well.

“We’ve seen a trend in more people [requesting help], we also saw a trend in more donors, which was fantastic,” Associate Director and Development Director Jamie Williams said. “We were able to successfully adopt out all of the families through our adopting program.

“We turned away donors, we sent donors to other places because we knew they were still looking for help.”

This holiday season Franklin Community Center has completed 650 holiday adoption tickets, up 150 from last year.

“For every increase in need, we had an increase in donors, so we’re incredibly thankful,” Williams said.

The center adjusted its holiday request form several years ago to reflect what they were experiencing. Now categories are labeled Want, Need, Like and Read.

Along with requests for toys were those for hygiene products and bedding, Williams said. The more detailed the request, the better. The read category, was a given:  “every kid should have books and they have wants, that’s where they can incorporate their toys.”

“I don’t know if it’s the pocket where we are in our community that not everyone was as heavily impacted as others,” Williams said. “So they realized ‘I’ve been fortunate in this, this is my time to step up and give back.’”

Categories: -The Daily Gazette, News

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