By Chris Ruvo:
In the comfortable suburbs and scenic rural stretches of Central and Upper Bucks County and Eastern Montgomery County, poverty can go unnoticed.
But economic hardship is there, hidden sometimes behind a smile or a stiff upper lip, cloaked away in lamp-lit midnight hours spent poring over bills as the kids sleep, struggling for a way to make ends meet.
“Every week people visit the food pantries, stand in line for fresh produce at Fresh Connect, call the Housing Link for help with a housing crisis, and seek help to prevent a utility shut off,” said Erin A. Lukoss, executive director of the Bucks County Opportunity Council.
Such want, as Charles Dickens remarked in his classic A Christmas Carol, is most keenly felt around the holidays.
And that’s why, every year since 1988, The Intelligencer has asked readers to open their hearts and wallets to help their neighbors in need by donating to Give A Christmas, which marks its 30th anniversary this holiday season. The fund hopes to reach a goal of $140,000 in donations.
“Each year readers have responded with an outpouring that defines the true meaning of the holidays,” said Amy Gianficaro, director of communications and community engagement at The Intelligencer.
Since Give a Christmas launched, the community has contributed nearly $2.8 million to help less fortunate families in the area.
Last year alone, more than 900 Intelligencer readers contributed $126,594.64 to Give A Christmas, in amounts ranging from $5 to $15,000, Gianficaro said. That money fueled a range of assistance initiatives — everything from helping parents buy gifts and groceries, to aiding with rent payments, medical bills and utility needs.
Hard numbers back up the anecdotal evidence of need in the community. The latest U.S. Census shows 6.6 percent of Bucks County’s population — some 41,818 people — are living below the poverty line.
“This program gives parents the joy of fulfilling a holiday wish for a child,” said Lukoss. “While Give A Christmas helps families and individuals at Christmas, the donations received are also used to help community members in need all year long. It’s like a safety ‘trampoline’ in that it catches people when they fall, and helps them bounce back to stability.”
Lukoss would know. The Bucks County Opportunity Council administers Give A Christmas, 10 percent of the proceeds from which are shared with the Keystone Opportunity Center. Complementing each other, the two community action agencies work on behalf of Give A Christmas to identify individuals and families needing financial assistance during the holidays.
During the 2016 holiday season, the Opportunity Council provided assistance to 441 families (1,308 individuals). The average assistance per family was $176. Families served had an average income of $14,844.
Lukoss vividly recalls the powerful, positive impact the outreach had on one local family last year. Desperate to get her children out of a violent, crime-plagued neighborhood in Philadelphia, a mother used all of her savings to move the family to The Intelligencer’s coverage area. The woman had no money left for Christmas — until the Opportunity Council stepped in with Give A Christmas funding.
“She was so appreciative of the gift cards. She said that as soon as she was on her feet, she would give back to her new community,” Lukoss said. “This program had restored her faith in humanity.”
By donating to Give A Christmas, readers can play a part in making such miracles a reality. All donations will be acknowledged in the newspaper unless anonymity is requested.
“Providing this help to our community for 30 years is a proud legacy for the employees of The Intelligencer,” Gianficaro said. “We know the Give A Christmas fund makes a difference for families at a time when they really need it. We’re proud to do this work and grateful for the partnership of the Bucks County Opportunity Council and the Keystone Opportunity Center.”