Laurie Diaz will never forget the look on the faces of her children as they opened their presents on Christmas morning.
“They were so happy and just really enjoying every second of it,” said Diaz. “It made me ecstatic.”
It was nothing short of a Christmas miracle. Weeks earlier, Christmas in Diaz’s household was in doubt. The Bucks County woman and her partner lacked the funds to provide their children with presents.
“We were so worried that we wouldn’t be able to get them anything,” said Diaz, who is mother to four while also having custody over three nephews and nieces.
But through The Intelligencer’s Give A Christmas program, Diaz was able to obtain gift cards to purchase presents.
“There are families that are doing their best but just don’t have enough,” Diaz said. “They rely on a little help. So if you can help by donating to Give A Christmas, then help. You have a huge impact on people’s lives, children’s lives.”
Administered by the Doylestown-based nonprofit Bucks County Opportunity Council (BCOC) in partnership with The Intelligencer, with 10% of the proceeds shared with the Keystone Opportunity Center, Give A Christmas 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.
As Diaz alluded to, donations fuel the fund. The goal for this year is to raise $140,000.
Over the 32 years of the program, local individuals, families, businesses and other organizations have donated roughly $3 million to Give A Christmas. Funds 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.
A Bucks County father of five is another who has benefited from Give A Christmas and other support from BCOC.
His wife works and he does the best he can, but is limited by a physical disability. Money is tight, but BCOC has helped with everything from gift cards for Christmas to assistance with groceries and more, including helping him find various jobs he can perform despite his disability.
“They have helped us out so much,” the man said of BCOC. “We’re so very grateful. This year has been especially hard, but we’re making it through with the help of the Opportunity Council.”
He’s not the only for whom 2020 has proved especially tough. Demand for various types of assistance from BCOC, including food help and eviction prevention, has soared as COVID-19 has ravaged the local economy, driving a sharp rise in unemployment.
Diaz’s partner was among the locals who lost his job. That’s made things even more difficult in 2020.
The family has again reached out to Give A Christmas for assistance. Help is on the way.
“We’ll be able to have a Christmas again,” said Diaz. “We’re very thankful.”
This year, Give A Christmas will be running a little differently because of the coronavirus 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. They’ll then receive a call with a date to pick up gift cards.
“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 BCOC. “It is a way to give locally and know that 100% of the funds are going to help people in need.”