This year, when SHARE, Inc. volunteers asked clients to give them their holiday wish lists, they were surprised to see how basic the requests were.
“I made a banner for our truck that said ‘SHARE the holiday season with toy donations,’ but after we got back their responses, I realized that my banner was totally off the mark, because they didn’t really want toys,” said McLean resident and SHARE volunteer Therese Dyer-Kaplan. “I was shocked that they were such staple items.”
SHARE sent its clients wish list requests with pre-stamped return envelopes, and while Legos and books were occasionally mentioned, coats, socks and shoes were at the top of most lists this year — even among the younger set.
“And you could see by the handwriting that the children had written it in themselves, that it was not the mother saying ‘I’m going to use this to get you your coat this year,’” said Dyer-Kaplan, noting that computers are another much requested item. “These kids go to Marshall and McLean and Langley High School, and I don’t know how any kid can get through school without a computer these days.”
SHARE, Inc. is a non-profit, all-volunteer, charitable organization that was established in 1969 by a coalition of faith communities in the McLean area. Its purpose is to provide a wide range of services to more than 3,000 lower-income people who are often overlooked in affluent suburbs. SHARE operates out of McLean Baptist Church and offers food and clothing “stores” to its clients, as well as its annual Thanksgiving Basket and Christmas Store programs. In addition, SHARE provides furniture donations to individuals and families in need, emergency monetary or crisis assistance and transportation to medical appointments.
SHARE will be sponsoring its annual cost-free Christmas Store on Saturday, Dec. 15 at McLean Baptist Church. Clients may come and “shop” for new donated toys, clothes, gifts and gift certificates. SHARE is in need of donations and volunteers for this event. New dolls, toys, games, small appliances, clothing, home décor items and gift cards can be dropped off at McLean Baptist Church, located at 1367 Chain Bridge Road on Friday, Dec. 14, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Gift cards in increments of $25 from Old Navy, Marshalls, Payless Shoes, The Sports Authority, Blockbuster, CVS, Target and Sears are particularly helpful.
“The big thing that we’re seeing is that the economic downturn is really kind of hitting the working poor,” said Vic Kimm, a McLean resident and past president of SHARE, Inc. “Our food pantry in the last three months has really seen a number of people coming through, and we’ve seen a big jump in our crisis intervention and family assistance program. There’s just a lot more people hurting this season.”
According to Kimm, over the last year SHARE has seen a 40 percent increase in the number of households visiting its free food pantry, and about a 30 percent increase in expenditures for crisis interventions to help troubled families cover rent and utility bills.
“For those who are surprised to hear about the lack of visible signs of poverty in our area, they might be surprised to learn that our food pantry distributed 340 bags of perishable items during the month of November,” said Kimm.
The number of families expected to use this weekend’s Christmas Store is also significantly higher than last year.
“We’re expecting about 125 families, including about 500 children,” said Kimm.
SHARE has been receiving support from local elementary, middle and high school students.
“They’ve been incredible – just incredible,” said Dyer-Kaplan. “Last year we decided to get teens involved because the first thing a teenager always asks is ‘are there any poor people in McLean?’”
Subsequently, the “Teens for Teens” program ran at Langley High School. A display of snowflakes was put up at the school and students could take a snowflake and turn it over to discover one wish list item from a SHARE teenage client. The Langley student would then supply the item.
“We put the display up, and within the first few hours, all the snowflakes were gone,” said Dyer-Kaplan, adding that the vast majority of items were basic items like coats, socks and pajamas.
At Kent Gardens Elementary School, Principal Robyn Hooker, Ph.D. assigned each grade level a staple item. Kindergartners were responsible for hats and scarves, first graders for mittens and gloves, second graders for socks, third graders for books and games, fourth and fifth graders for pajamas, and sixth graders had the option to choose any age appropriate selection. In November, Cooper Middle School students stood outside the McLean Family Restaurant explaining SHARE to patrons and collecting donations. The students were able to collect an impressive $4,500 after standing outside from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on just two Saturdays.
“It was just a handful of students,” said Dyer-Kaplan. “I was blown away by how much money they were able to raise.”