For 10 hours a day, six days a week, Lonnie Johnson has weathered the bitter cold of the Kansas wind all for the sake of charity.
Johnson is a Salvation Army bell ringer in Lawrence, Kan. During the months of November and December, bell ringers all across the country raise money to support their local Salvation Army Church.
“Many times I’ve been on the other side of the track,” Johnson said. “And I needed somebody to help me with my medicine. [The Salvation Army] is a great organization. I can’t say enough about it. Seven years strong, here I am.”
The Salvation Army is one of many charities that help local communities year round. During the holiday season, these charities go above and beyond to help lower-income families in their areas.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 46.5 million people living in poverty in 2012. The official poverty rate was 12.5 percent. In Lawrence, the poverty rate was 19.5 percent in 2010.
With such high rates of poverty, low-income parents face the stresses of providing their children with gifts and food on the holidays.
“When you take families who are having difficulties throughout the entire year making ends meet and you throw in toys at Christmas time, you want to be able to provide that,” said Lieutenant Marisa McCluer, corps officer at the Salvation Army in Lawrence. “I’ve seen the financial stress and financial burden manifest physically and emotionally. It’s really hard to stay stable.”
Charities all across the country work with families experiencing poverty to try to ease the burden of buying presents for their children.
In its first year of existence in 1947, the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots program collected 5,000 toys to be distributed to children. Six decades later that number has swelled to 16.8 million toys.
“The premise by which Toys for Tots was founded was that so many children don’t ever get anything new, they always get hand-me-downs,” said Mary Jones, Toys for Tots coordinator in Lawrence. “We want to give kids hope. We feel that every child deserves a little Christmas.”
While many children ask Santa Claus for a new bicycle or doll, some children are happy to receive the gift that keeps on giving — a book.
“A lot of times people only give toys and sometimes books are one thing that don’t get donated as much,” said Paige Welch, family connections coordinator at Ballard Community Services. “This is a great educational component. Some of the books teach so much as opposed to just the picture books with maybe Buzz Lightyear that kids see more of. They get their hands on a different type of book that maybe they’re not used to seeing.”
Ballard Community Services partnered with the Toy Store, located in downtown Lawrence, for the Give a Bear a Book program. For more than a month, Toy Store customers could buy and donate a book to this program. The Toy Store then matched the donation to the Ballard Center. The books are then distributed to the children who attend Ballard’s early childhood center, which provides childcare to children of low-income families.
Along with the tradition of exchanging gifts, providing their families with a Thanksgiving or Christmas feast is high up on many parents’ priority lists.
Harvesters Community Food Network is a food bank responsible for feeding about 66,000 people a week in northern Kansas and Missouri. In December, individuals in those areas organize Holiday Fixin’s Food Drives, in which they collect food that Harvesters then delivers to any one of its 620 food banks, churches or kitchens.
“This time of year our community tends to be a little more generous and they understand the importance of having a large meal,” said Sami Paxton, a food and fun drive specialist at Harvesters. “This food drive helps provide those extra things that would normally be harder to obtain with limited resources.”
According to the National Philanthropic Trust, there were 1.08 million charitable organizations in the U.S. in 2011. Whether you donate your time or your money, charities are always a great way to usher in the holiday season.
This will be Lonnie Johnson’s last year volunteering as a Salvation Army bell ringer in Lawrence. Soon he’s moving to Johnson County.
“It’s just right down the road,” Johnson said. “There’s a lot of sentimentality here because I have so many good memories. You can’t beat the people of Lawrence and Douglas County, you just can’t.”
The Salvation Army was founded in 1865 in London. Since its foundation in the United States, the organization has served more than 30 million people.
Check out this infographic for more information on national charities and volunteers.