As Sheryl Wachter thumbed through the “hundreds and hundreds” of Share Your Christmas applications, one thread wove nearly all of them together.
It was COVID-19.
“It’s hard to find one that doesn’t mention COVID,” says Wachter, the volunteer coordinator of the Share Your Christmas program.
“People have either lost their job because a restaurant or business shut down. Some of them had their hours greatly reduced because of it, or the daycare shut down, or the baby sitter got COVID and they couldn’t go to work. And I’ve got one family that’s been quarantined five times,” Wachter says. “They haven’t been sick, but when you’re an hourly wage worker and can’t go to work, it certainly impacts the family income.”
The pandemic, she says, has hit the community hard and those who can least afford it the hardest.
Launched 56 years ago, Share Your Christmas is a collaborative project of the News-Leader and Council of Churches of the Ozarks’ Crosslines program. Over the decades, it has connected those who can give with those who need it most, brightening countless Christmas mornings throughout Springfield’s greater metropolitan area.
Ordinarily, the program yields an astonishing abundance for the families selected to participate. But Wachter and Tom Faulkner, director of Crosslines, are concerned about this year. As with everything in 2020, they’ve scaled back expectations for this holiday season.
Wachter says she’s reduced the number of care-center residents to be helped from 100 in 2019 to 80 this year. The number of families to be helped has been reduced from about three dozen to 30.
And, she says, even the families have scaled back expectations.
“The needs are pretty much the basics,” she says. “Clothing is probably more on the wishlists than toys are. Parents are getting pretty practical this year.”
And they’re asking for nothing for themselves. When pressed, they might admit to needing warm blankets.
“They just want their kids to have something,” she says.
Last year at this time Gail was one of those parents. Gail, who asked that her name be withheld out of privacy concerns, was in a particularly difficult situation.
She and her husband, David, married later in life. She has four children and 10 grandchildren. David has two children and nine grandchildren. They were raising David’s grandson Peyton, who’s now 10, and decided to take in Peyton’s half-sister MyKayla, now 6, after her father died by suicide and their mother continued to struggle with addiction.
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It wasn’t ideal, but it was working. Gail is a certified chef who was working at the Salvation Army and David was a plasterer.
Then David’s neck was broken in a recreational vehicle incident and their world blew up.
David was rendered quadriplegic in the accident. He has partial use of one hand and requires around-the-clock care. Sometimes his blood pressure will inexplicably drop to 30/30. Gail says it’s dangerous to leave his side even for a minute.
She had to quit her job cooking meals for the homeless to care for her husband and grandchildren, and work was impossible for David. Between the stressors of a sudden change in income and the expense of remodeling their home to accommodate David’s power chair, Christmas wasn’t likely to happen without help.
Gail says turning to Share Your Christmas was difficult.
“I talked to my (former) coworkers about how difficult it would be for me to walk in there knowing everybody. And even though they’re all very generous and caring, that was my home. That was my job,” she says, choking back a sob. “My source of pride.”
But Gail says swallowing her pride was worth it.
“I figured a toy or two or an outfit or two and we would be good. My car was full and they were asking if I needed anything else and they made sure we were taken care of. It was more than just gifts. They wanted to know if I was OK, if my husband was OK. … It really touched us because it was more than just, here, you’re a number, we’ll get you something and move you on.
“They wanted to know who we were and what we needed,” she says.
Wachter is cautiously optimistic the program will similarly brighten the 30 families and 80 care-center residents’ Christmases this year. But she needs help, largely in the way of cash. And the earlier in the season, the better.
In normal years, a band of volunteers — all retired and at an age that puts them at high risk of complications from COVID-19 — collects most of the items needed for care-center residents and things needed to fill in gaps in families’ wish lists.
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She can’t ask them to shop in person this year, so Wachter hopes for a large infusion of monetary donations so she can figure out how to buy clothes and toys sooner. “Are the shelves going to get depleted in the toy store if we don’t go shopping? We know shipping will get bogged down,” Wachter says.
Wachter and Faulkner are hopeful employee groups and individuals will provide toys not only for Share Your Christmas but Crosslines’ Toystore, which remains in need of thousands of toys.
“I would love to see every single one of our care center residents and our families adopted,” Wachter says.
Share Your Christmas
Share Your Christmas is the News-Leader’s and Crosslines’ annual campaign to give readers the opportunity to share their holiday spirit with others. This year, 30 families and about 80 care-center residents will have a brighter Christmas, thanks to Share Your Christmas donors.
Families and residential care center residents may be adopted by a single donor or by a group working together to help one of the larger families. Donors may adopt an entire family, one family member, donate a single gift or donate any amount of money. Every dollar helps. Readers who wish to donate gifts can call Share Your Christmas at 417-866-8008. Callers should refer to the story number they wish to help, and they will be given specific information such as clothing sizes.
Gifts must be delivered to the east side of the Crosslines building, at 615 N. Glenstone Ave. The hours to deliver gifts are 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday through Dec. 14 and 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Dec. 12. The final day for gift delivery is Dec. 14. If you are unable to deliver donations at these times, call 417-866-8008 to make other arrangements.
To make a monetary donation, send a check payable to Crosslines, Share Your Christmas, and the story number (if applicable) in the memo line. If the needs of that family or care center resident have been met and you are willing to help others in the Crosslines holiday programs, please write “or as needed” in the memo line. Donations can be made at http://crosslinesholiday.org/give/or mailed to Share Your Christmas, 615 N. Glenstone Ave., Springfield MO 65802. Monetary donations are welcome any time of year.
After many, many setbacks, this family is trying to start over in a new community and grateful to be in a safer location. They had been living in northern California and have experienced the devastation and heartbreak of wildfires. In the Paradise fire, they lost their business. Their home was later destroyed in the Clayton fire. Most recently, their house escaped flames, but the contents of the home were so badly damaged by smoke and soot that almost nothing was salvageable. In other years they have experienced long periods when the power was shut off due to fire danger nearby or were required to spend days in evacuation shelters. In February, while still trying to recover from the fires, the couple’s 13-year-old daughter was seriously injured when she was struck by a car walking home from school. She has recovered from some of her injuries but suffers side effects from the head trauma and continues to need therapy. The family faced very costly therapy sessions that would have required traveling to San Francisco when they were told of a program available for their daughter in Springfield. Using money from the sale of their California home, they bought a home in Springfield and moved, bringing only a few boxes of clothing and family mementos.
Mom and Dad immediately began job hunting and were fortunate to find employment. But because they the most recent hires, they were the first to be laid off when work slowed with the arrival of the pandemic. Dad has recently found other employment, but Mom hasn’t been able to find work that offers a schedule compatible with her need to take their daughter to speech therapy and a son to sensory appointments.
While they are hopeful the family situation will improve, they have continued to face grief and challenges. Their oldest daughter, her fiancé and their infant son also moved to Springfield and were just settling in when the fiancé’ was killed while riding his bicycle. The daughter is finding it difficult to cope with this loss so she and the baby are living with her parents. Mom says paying off their younger daughter’s medical bills is their top priority so they have purchased only the most basic items for their home. She would eventually like to have desks for the children to use for homework or dressers for storing clothing.
A former neighbor in California talked to Share Your Christmas about this family and told how they helped her and her disabled husband evacuate before one of the fires, how they shared food during one of the power outages and how they volunteered for Toys for Tots. She said, “They were the best neighbors. I miss them so much, but my loss is Springfield’s gain”.
In addition to Mom and Dad, the family includes the 19-year-old daughter and her baby boy, 16- and 13-year-old daughters and a 6-year-old son. The younger girls would like comforter sets for their beds, art supplies and jewelry. The 6-year-old son is autistic and Mom has suggested several sensory toys that would be appropriate for him. A high chair and toys that have lights and music would be nice for the baby. The family has not been able to replace coats and other winter clothing lost in their California home, so those are needed. They also don’t have many basic household items so assistance with that would be appreciated. If you would like specific information about gifts, clothing sizes or other needs please call the Share Your Christmas office at 866-8008. Together we can show this family that they have moved to a very caring community.
“Going to college while being a single mom is hard. I never thought that I’d be responsible for working and paying the bills, raising a child and trying to get my degree on my own, but here I am. Unfortunately, when COVID began, things got rough. My daughter had to be home from mid-March until June because her daycare closed, which forced me to leave my job and stay home as well. Now that she’s back in daycare, I’m working again. I’ve worked on paying off old bills that were past due but it leaves very little left for anything extra,” this mom wrote. She went on to talk about her classes at Ozarks Technical Community College, where she is working on an associate degree. Her goal is to become a special education teacher for elementary-age students. When talking with her employer, Share Your Christmas heard about a young woman who is a hard worker, respected by her co-workers and admired for all she is trying to accomplish.
Mother says her 18-month-old daughter wants to assist with whatever she is doing. A child-size broom or play dishes would be good gifts for this little helper. A play tent or baby dolls are other gift suggestions. If possible, Mother would like a set of queen-size sheets.
The Share Your Christmas team enjoyed reading about this interesting older woman. Among her many careers were four years spent as a U.S. Army medic, working as a credit manager at Wells Fargo and teaching clerical skills. In addition to working, she also found time to give a mother’s attention to her 12 children. The staff wrote on this resident’s application for Christmas help, “She is a very sweet person. Always looking out for others. She loves Martha Stewart, cooking, art and playing games.” When asked about her childhood, she said she grew up in California and clearly remembers how her mother bought a slide from a local school and painted it blue and yellow. Perhaps that is why she requested a yellow sweat suit or shirt. Underwear and shoes are other items needed. A radio with headphones is the treat she would most like to find tucked in the bottom of her Christmas box.
It’s not surprising that a winter coat and gloves are two of the gifts this gentleman would like to receive in his Christmas box. He has always enjoyed the outdoors and told Share Your Christmas that his favorite memory is the day he was able to purchase a bass fishing boat. As long as he was able he continued to camp, fish and spend time on his boat. The care center staffers say he can be found sitting outside every day unless it is raining or snowing. In addition to a warm coat, he has listed pants and diabetic shoes as items he needs. Special treats would be diet Dr Pepper and mini-size Snickers.