A lagging economy combined with the holiday season has led more people to seek help from community organizations dedicated to serving the needy.
But a generous Columbia County community has kept those organizations from feeling overwhelmed.
Last year, the Columbia County Foundation for Children, an Appling-based organization dedicated to helping children in need, made sure 474 youngsters found presents waiting for them beneath their Christmas trees.
Thus far this year, the foundation has received nearly 750 applications from parents and school officials seeking assistance in providing a good Christmas for needy children in Columbia County.
"It's up more than it's ever been," said foundation president Donna Lee, who added that the extra children haven't strained her organizations' resources due to new sponsors.
"We have lost some of the sponsorships we used to have, but others have come on board," she said. "Others may be sponsoring fewer children than in the past, but again, other sponsors have picked them up."
Area businesses sponsor specific children to provide them with presents. Also, classes in county schools sponsor children and raise funds or conduct gift drives for those children.
"Most of our support comes from the Columbia County schools," Lee said. "Every school in Columbia County takes a child. Schools have sponsored children in the past, but this is the first year that every school has."
Columbia County Cares, an Appling-based food bank, has helped feed an average of 473 families per month this year. That's up from 448 last year, and 60 more than 2007.
"It's a tough time in the area," said Lou Reda, executive director of Columbia County Cares. "There are a lot of people in the area that need help, considering the economy and the time of year.
"But we have been quite fortunate at Columbia County Cares. We've had a couple of large donations of food and are in fairly good shape as far as food is concerned."
Most of the food bank's assistance comes from area churches, but food drives and fundraising efforts held each Halloween and Thanksgiving provide additional resources during the holiday season, Reda said.
Also, the organization often receives help from local schools, such as Episcopal Day School, which recently donated about 1,500 pounds of food.
"At this time of the year, people become more generous," Reda said. "Even though we're doing more this year than we've ever done on the past, people are being more generous because they know the economy isn't as good."
Grovetown food bank United We Care also relies on church support to help those going hungry in the city, and recently benefitted from a $2,500 donation from the new Grovetown Walmart.
"This year, we have been lucky," United We Care Executive Director Jeannie Brissel said. "We've had some generous donations."
The organization reformed in November 2008 following a seven-month hiatus. It had closed down after founder Bill Campbell died.
Brissel didn't know last week how many people United We Care has helped compared to the previous incarnation of the food bank.
However, Brissel said, the number of Grovetown residents seeking help from United We Care has risen each month this year. During Thanksgiving, the organization fed 60 families.
"Our applications have doubled since last year because of the economy, but we've been lucky enough to have been able to accept everyone who has applied," Brissel said.
In addition to food, United We Care also accepts clothes and toys for needy children.
"We can't give them everything, but we try to have something to put under the tree for the kids," Brissel said.
In the past, Columbia County Community Connections has joined with the city of Harlem to collect food, clothes and toys for needy children in the city during Christmas.
This year, the Harlem-based group also is joining with Journey Community Church in Evans to expand its charitable donations into all areas of the county.
The group has about 500 applications from area families and schools seeking help for children.
"We try to get them what they want," said Julie Miller, executive director for Community Connections. "We're serving more people, but we haven't been overwhelmed."
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