2019 Give A Christmas partners deliver holiday spirit of giving year round

Over the past 30 years, Intelligencer readers have contributed more than $3 million to help families in need. We’re once again asking for your generosity to support the Give A Christmas campaign.

A hand-up and hope for a better future — those are the gifts the Bucks County Opportunity Council (BCOC) and Keystone Opportunity Center are delivering to in-need locals this holiday season.

Still, for these community-focused nonprofits, the giving doesn’t stop when the calendar flicks past Christmas.

It’s their year-round mission to help individuals and families receive the support they need to overcome financial dire straits and arrive on the path to self-sufficiency.

Those are big reasons why The Intelligencer has again teamed up with the organizations on the Give A Christmas Fund, an annual do-gooding initiative now in its 32nd year. Administered by the BCOC, with 10% of the proceeds shared with the Keystone Opportunity Center, the fund provides financial assistance to individuals and families in need during the holidays.

Benefiting locals in Central and Upper Bucks County, as well as Eastern Montgomery County and the North Penn and Indian Valley communities, the fund provides a variety of assistance. That includes everything from help with buying gifts and groceries, to paying rent, medicine bills and utility expenses. Donations from local individuals, families and businesses fuel the fund.

Once holiday time needs are met, the nonprofits could use remaining donations to power their core outreach programs throughout the year — when wants are no less keenly felt. And those missions are vitally important.

Take the BCOC, which has been in operation since 1965.

Recognized as the lead social services agency in Bucks County, Doylestown-headquartered BCOC aims to reduce poverty and partner with the community to promote economic self-sufficiency. It does this through what leaders say are essential programs that focus on providing support/services in poverty-related crisis: economic self-sufficiency education; food; weatherization/housing help; and volunteer income tax assistance.

“There are 38,000 people in our county living at the poverty threshold, which is $25,750 gross income annually for a family of four,” said Tammy B. Schoonover, BCOC’s director of community services. “We’re challenged to reach as many of them as need our help through these five programs, or ‘doors,’ as we call them.”

For its current operational year, BCOC has so far assisted more than 17,000 locals. The numbers tell an impressive tale. BCOC has provided for 82,828 food pantry visits, distributed 1,907,514 pounds of food, and served 1,828 households through its Fresh Connect initiative — a mobile farmers market.

Additionally, the council has saved 1,030 people from evictions, connected 244 homeless individuals with permanent housing, and delivered crisis heater repair to 163 households. Through the volunteer income tax assistance program, BCOC prepared 1,390 returns, with refunds saved totaling nearly $1.7 million and tax credits reaching about $1.1 million. Fees saved tallied a touch under $270,000.

“Our programs help tackle the issues that prevent individuals and families with low-incomes from meeting their most basic needs,” said Schoonover. “However, we are not satisfied to help them just when they are in crisis; we want to help them leave poverty permanently.”

To that end, BCOC has provided household coaching to 1,619 households. It has also helped people through its economic self-sufficiency education and assistance initiatives. “In 2019, income when entering the program was $21,151,” said Schoonover. “Exit income was $55,133.”

Similar outreach and success stories are happening at Souderton-based Keystone Opportunity Center. “We house the homeless, feed the hungry, and educate adults and families in Bucks and Montgomery counties,” said Alan M. Raisman, Keystone’s manager of advancement.

Keystone’s work on food insecurity includes a food pantry that serves an average of 250 Souderton School District families per month, as well as a “Fresh For All” location in Souderton that weekly provides for 150 families, some from as far away as the Lehigh Valley. In 2018 alone, Keystone distributed 258,840 pounds of food.

Meanwhile, the nonprofit’s education efforts include five levels of English as a second language instruction, Citizen Test preparation, and helping folks achieve their high school diploma equivalency. There’s also a family literacy program for parents and their children. “In 2018, we educated 424 students,” said Raisman, noting Keystone was created by the 2009 merger of two nonprofits that dated back to the 1970s. “We offer classes in Souderton, Lansdale, Willow Grove and Norristown.”

When it comes to housing, Keystone’s programs focus on homelessness diversion, rapid rehousing, permanent supportive housing and single-room occupancy housing throughout Bucks and Montgomery counties. “We also manage two dozen low-income rental units,” said Raisman, noting that Keystone housed 178 individuals locally in 2018. “In addition to housing, we offer community case management in which we assist individuals with budgeting, life skills and programs like rent rebate assistance,” he said.

The effort can make miracles happen. Willy Puati is proof.

Puati and his family came to the Keystone Opportunity Center in 2011, having arrived from their native Congo only two weeks prior. They needed to learn English. They needed help with affordable housing and food until they could secure employment.

“We found them their first affordable house and assisted them with food from our food pantry, all while Willy and his wife were in English as a Second Language classes,” said Raisman. “They learned how to budget, and were able to make a down payment on a house. Willy’s English improved, and he was able to get a job in what he studied back home.”

By donating to Give A Christmas, locals can help fuel the futures of more folks like Puati and his family. Consider donating today.

“We are able,” said Raisman, ” to achieve everything we do with the support of the community and programs like the Give A Christmas campaign.”

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