Santa’s helpers reside at DSS

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 24, 2005

JACKSON – Santa Claus has many helpers.

Some of those work at the Northampton County Department of Social Services (DSS).

Since October, members of the Work First Employment Services Division have been coordinating an effort to help more than 650 children throughout the county have a better Christmas.

&uot;It’s a privilege to be able to make this contribution to the welfare of our citizens,&uot; Social Services Director Dr. Al Wentzy said. &uot;We are helping provide for children and families that would not be able to provide Christmas to their families in the material way to which we’ve become accustomed.&uot;

Starting in October, Phyllis Cannon and her staff begin sending out letters, collecting contributions and working on a list of citizens who need help.

The program, which has been on going in Northampton County for more than 10 years, provides for needy families with children between birth and 12-years old. DSS accepted applications from those families and created a list of those who were truly needy.

&uot;Our first year we placed no requirements on the program,&uot; Dr. Wentzy said. &uot;We learned quickly.&uot;

The director said there were families from surrounding counties and even some from Virginia that came to be part of the program. Since then Northampton’s DSS pre-qualifies families to make sure they are in Northampton County, the children live with them and that they are truly needy.

Once a family meets the requirements, they give the age, clothing size and other information about their children.

&uot;We’re not just talking about Game Boys and things of that nature,&uot; Dr. Wentzy said. &uot;We try to meet the necessities such as clothing, but of course we also make sure they have toys.&uot;

As they are collecting information from needy children and families, the department was also busy contacting businesses, churches and individuals who may be willing to help provide for the families.

&uot;We send out letters to all businesses and churches and we have others who have volunteered,&uot; Cannon said. &uot;There are sponsors who may do anything from sponsor one child to 10 children. How they do that is their choice.&uot;

The program offers almost a tailor-made way of contributing for area businesses and churches. They may choose to donate unwrapped toys, adopt a family or families or make monetary donations which are used to purchase gifts that parents indicate are needed.

&uot;We want to give people the opportunity to give in a way they feel comfortable,&uot; Dr. Wentzy said.

He added that some of the sponsors had taken such a personal interest they wanted to go to the family personally. Wentzy said that could be accomplished simply be getting permission from the prospective family.

Some of the larger sponsors for the program include Toys for Tots, Lowe’s Home Improvement Distribution Center, Roanoke Electric Cooperative and the Salvation Army. The program is funded solely by the donations from the sponsors of which there were 85 this year.

&uot;This is the right thing to do,&uot; Dr. Wentzy said of the program. &uot;Our citizens are so good about their willingness to contribute, especially when there are children involved.&uot;

Dr. Wentzy, Cannon and other members of Northampton’s DSS believe in the program so much they add it to their additional duties.

Cannon said they begin working on the program in October and spend a lot of time trying to coordinate the needy families and the donations.

Wentzy said this, however, was not their first responsibility.

&uot;Please keep in mind this is an additional duty,&uot; he stressed. &uot;Their regular work must continue uninterrupted. They do a fine job with it.&uot;

This year Northampton County pre-qualified 353 families which accounted for 668 children. They were still working on 228 of them this week as they tried to get the final toys in and bag them for the families.

&uot;The number of kids and the community support grow each year,&uot; Cannon said. &uot;This year we were similar to last year’s number.&uot;

As they prepare to close out the year, Wentzy said it wasn’t too late for people to contribute. He said any donations made now would be put in a trust fund for next year’s program.

He also said this had been important to the county.

&uot;This is what the Christmas spirit is all about,&uot; Dr. Wentzy closed. &uot;We are reaching out to those who can’t care for themselves.&uot;