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Helping Families Enjoy Holidays

ECHO continues its holiday food program to serve members of the Springfield community.

John Ray, Meg Brantly and Duanne Carlson have been volunteering at ECHO for several years. Carlson is one of ECHO’s founding fathers.

John Ray, Meg Brantly and Duanne Carlson have been volunteering at ECHO for several years. Carlson is one of ECHO’s founding fathers. Photo by Janelle Germanos

Ecumenical Community Helping Others (ECHO) has been serving members of the Springfield and Burke community for over 40 years. The all-volunteer organization provides assistance to those suffering from poverty and emergency situations year-round.

ECHO’s Thanksgiving food basket program is currently underway for the second year in a row. According to Meg Brantley, the executive director of ECHO, the organization has sent out letters inviting 542 eligible families to participate.

A network of 26 congregations sponsors a certain amount of families each year for the Thanksgiving and Christmas food basket programs. Local businesses and other organizations also help.

"What the donors can’t pick up, ECHO can pick up," Brantley said.

Brantley said that about half of the families have responded.

According to Brantley, who started at the organization 14 years ago sorting clothes, former clients and family members of the program often give back later on in their lives.

"A lady came in to donate food. Her grandmother was a former client of ours years ago, and she was living with her grandmother. This lady came to the door with food to donate, and then wanted to know if she could also be a donor for a family. She can remember as a child, ECHO coming to her house with food, and she wanted to give back," Brantley said.

ECHO’s gift program is another way the organization helps the community during the holiday season. The program is for children and allows parents to pick out gifts for their family. Families in need are identified by ECHO, and set up a time slot to come to the office and pick out gifts. ECHO volunteers dressed as elves see seven adults every 20 minutes during this program.

"We collect all year round," Brantley said. "Our congregations have giving trees, and they will put labels on the tree for the gift they need."

The program has the potential to reach 733 children, but Brantley doesn’t expect a response from all of those families.

In addition to the holiday food and gift programs, ECHO also needs donations, including food, for the rest of the year.

"In the month of October, we actually serviced more families than we have since 2009, when the economy tanked," Brantley said. "I think probably with the shutdown and various things in October we ended up giving more food to families since that date. That translated to 2,583 bags of food."

Marianne DeHart of Burke has been volunteering at ECHO for over nine years, and is a driving force behind the school supplies program.

"The school supplies program is my passion," DeHart said. "I’m a retired teacher and I really feel the need for kids to go to school and being able to have the backpacks and supplies that everyone else has."

John Ray of Springfield said that personal care items and essentials such as cooking oil are needed right now. Ray has been volunteering at ECHO since 1996.

"My wife had volunteered here before and said it was a good place to go," Ray said.

Duane Carlson, a founding father of ECHO, enjoys working with the other volunteers.

"Knowing that all these volunteers are committed to helping other people is very important. There’s only a certain group of people that actively take the time and make the effort, and I’m glad to be part of that," Carlson said.