Sometimes, the ends just don’t meet.
Jessica was no slouch. The single mother from Bucks County was working hard as a self-employed housekeeper to support her three children. But hustle as she did, there just wasn’t enough money to meet basic needs, including safe, affordable housing.
Enter the Bucks County Opportunity Council and The Intelligencer’s Give A Christmas.
The Opportunity Council, a Doylestown-based nonprofit, connected Jessica with a self-sufficiency coach who provided training, financial assistance that helped pay for essentials, and a bridge to a better-paying, full-time job.
Soon after landing that job, Jessica was able to stably house her family, moving them into their own apartment. More education and training is in the cards for Jessica, and she now has the realistic dream of one day owning a house.
“Without the assistance, Jessica and her children would have spiraled further into crisis and an uncertain future,” said Tammy B. Schoonover, chief program officer at BCOC.
That the agency was able to provide the assistance was thanks, in significant part, to Give A Christmas.
Administered by the Bucks County Opportunity Council in partnership with The Intelligencer, 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. Money not dispersed during the holidays is used to support locals in need throughout the year.
Benefiting low-income people 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.
Of course, the money doesn’t materialize out of thin air. Donations from local individuals, families and businesses power the fund — and have been doing so each year since 1988 when the initiative began.
“Give A Christmas is such a wonderful way to help our community members who might be struggling at the holidays or throughout the year,” said Erin A. Lukoss, CEO and executive director of the Bucks County Opportunity Council. “It is a way to give locally and know that 100% of the funds are going to help people in need.”
"This has been a year of upheaval for so many families," Intelligencer Executive Editor Shane Fitzgerald said. "Give A Christmas is made to order for helping those who have suffered economic hardship during these trying times. Bucks and Montgomery counties traditionally have been extremely generous and this year's donation will have added impact.
"We're starting earlier this year so we can safely distribute donations during this pandemic, so we hope contributors can help us help more people before the holidays. We are extremely proud of our longstanding service to the community with Give A Christmas, and it may never have been more needed than it is this year."
Over the 32 years of the program, Give A Christmas has raised roughly $3 million, helping thousands of locals. More than $132,000 in donations generated during the 2019-20 campaign enabled assistance to 450 families, totaling 1,322 people. Of those folks, about 6 in 10 of the beneficiaries were minors. Average annual income for each household was just $16,883. In 85% of the cases, women were the head of the household.
This year, Give A Christmas will be running a little differently because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In order to distribute the funds safely, BCOC will be instituting an online registration/application process. People will be able to complete the form, which will be on BCOC’s website, www.bcoc.org. Recipients will then receive a call with a date to pick up gift cards.
For households in desperate need, those gift cards are nothing short of miracles. To make the miracles happen, however, the community must donate generously, thereby helping Give A Christmas meet its seasonal fundraising total of $140,000.
Said Schoonover: “The Give A Christmas program helps provide families, like Jessica’s, with the financial support they need to get back on their feet.”