Processing its Christmas assistance applications went much quicker for Augusta Urban Ministries this year.
"We're really excited the Christmas Clearinghouse went online. We found out who had already applied right away," said Amy Hobby Rickard, Augusta Urban Ministries' executive director.
Christmas Clearinghouse is a conglomeration of about 30 area social service organizations and churches that work together to make sure people receive the help they need during the holidays and prevent duplications.
The service has been around for about 25 years, said Brooke Howell, the community impact director at the United Way of the CSRA.
Organizations in counties including Columbia, Richmond and Burke use the system. The United Way and the Salvation Army are the two lead organizations in the Christmas Clearinghouse.
For two decades, applications were processed by hand, and anyone who applied at more than one agency for Christmas help was removed from other lists so that help came from only one charity.
"Sometimes a grandmother may apply not knowing another family member may have already applied," Howell said.
There also are those who try to get help from more than one agency.
Howell said there is about a 5 to 7 percent duplication rate.
This year was the first year the facts and figures went online. As with any new program, there are kinks in the system, but Howell said she believes next year will be even better.
The Salvation Army recently received an $11,000 grant from the AT&T Foundation to purchase hardware and software to upgrade the Christmas Clearinghouse's Web-based efforts next year.
Howell said about 15,000 people were processed through the Christmas Clearinghouse this season.
She hopes that others will take advantage of the system next year.
"Our goal is for any church or civic organization to become a part to spread the Christmas donations of toys and food much further," Howell said.
The organizations begin meeting about Christmas Clearinghouse in July.
For more information, call (706) 724-5544.
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