The Henrico County Christmas Mother has sprung into action for the 2012 holiday season. First step—reach out to families, disabled adults, and seniors in need throughout Henrico County. Residents can apply for aid through the Henrico Christmas Mother program by applying in person at their warehouse at 361 Dabbs House Road, each Monday in November, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Residents must apply in person. If a person cannot make it on these dates, he or she can send a family member or a friend to apply for them, as long as they have the proper supporting documentation with them.
Individuals and families applying for help must have the following items: proof of Henrico County residency (such as a utility bill with the individual’s address), social security cards for each household member (including children—if one or more cards are missing, a letter can be obtained from the Social Security Administration with the appropriate information), proof of income (including a copy of a recent pay stub, copy of social services notification of food stamp or TANF amount, and/or copy of child support award), proof of disability, if applicable (a letter showing amount of disability payments), and proof of custody where applicable (court orders or custody papers).
“Every year, we see need throughout Henrico County,” says Betsy Foster, Christmas Mother from 1994 and current sponsorship chair. “It’s not isolated to any one area of the county. And Henrico is growing so fast, the need grows a little almost every year.”
The program is celebrating its 70th anniversary. It started in 1942 when Mrs. George Nelson, a Henrico County schoolteacher, asked her students to fill Christmas food baskets for local families in need. Last year alone, the program provided new clothes, toys, books, and food to over 6,000 Henrico County residents.
They accept donations of clothes (sweat shirts and sweat pants are best), hats and gloves, new toys and books, baby items, and canned goods, but their biggest need is usually cash. They need cash donations to make their $120,000 budget. Most people don’t realize that they can actually donate money all year round, not just during the holidays, and those donations are tax deductible. “Our toy and clothing committee chairs shop year round for the best bargains and deals, making sure we put our dollars to good use. We also buy things in bulk,” says Ms. Foster. “In January, I guarantee, we’ll be out there, shopping the clearance sales, getting the best possible deals, getting ready for next Christmas. So, yes, donations all year round are much appreciated.”
Ms. Foster adds, “We’ve been blessed to have such strong community support over the years. It takes a lot of donations and a lot of volunteers to keep the program going.” One of the biggest supporters of Henrico Christmas Mother is Martin’s through their “Share-a-Meal” program. When people shop at Martin’s this season, they’re asked if they want to donate to the program. The money then goes to the Christmas Mother program in that store’s area, including Henrico, Richmond, Chesterfield, and Goochland. “They are such a big help,” praises Ms. Foster.
Local high schools are also a huge help to the program, coordinating huge canned food drives that help them fill the food boxes for the participants.
Families can choose to pick out their holiday gifts and food from the Christmas Mother warehouse, or they can choose to be sponsored by a family or an organization.
If they choose the warehouse option, individuals or families are given a scheduled appointment time. At the appointed time and day in December, the person (usually the mom, if representing a family) gets to come to the warehouse and pick out gifts for her family. They get some sweatshirts and sweatpants, two age appropriate toys for each child, and a box of canned goods, along with a Martin’s gift certificate to complete their holiday dinner. They can also choose hats, gloves, and baby items. Seniors can go to the seniors’ table and pick out something new, such as towels, a blanket, pajamas, and other necessary items.
If a family chooses to be sponsored, they then work directly with the organization, business, church, or family that’s sponsoring them. Families usually go this route if they have specific needs, such as diet restrictions or other special requests. The sponsors reach out to the family they’re sponsoring and work with them to provide what they need for their special Christmas gifts and food.
When asked if there are lot of tears, Ms. Foster says, “You better believe it. Most of the people who come to us don’t want to have to come in, but they need the help and don’t know where to turn, so they turn to us. They’re so grateful that we’re able to help them in this little way, so there are lots of good tears shed, because you know what you’re doing is helping someone else.”
Through the years, there have been so many touching moments, but one moment does stick out in Ms. Foster’s mind. She recounts the story: “We generally do not take used things. However, this one time a lady had donated a really nice coat, and we had it outside on a rack for people to see. After choosing gifts for her family, this one mother picked it up, wrapped it around her, and said, ‘Wow, this is the first winter I’m going to be warm,’ and her face just beamed. These are things that so many of us don’t think about or take for granted. So, yes, I cry, because I see things we’re not used to seeing. But I’m so happy when I see families sponsoring families, because then I know they’ve been helped.”
If you know someone in need, please pass this information to them. If you would like to volunteer, donate goods or money, or if you simply want more information, please visit www.HenricoChristmasMother.org or call (804) 236-9741. If you are interested in sponsoring a family, please call Betsy Foster at (804) 501-5538 or email her at email@example.com.