December 16, 2004
The Emergency Santa program is in a state of emergency itself as it scrambles to collect presents for a record number of poor children from throughout the Valley.
The Mesa-based CARE Partnership is in its 11th year of offering clothes, bedding, toys and candy to parents who can’t afford any gifts, but may have fallen under the radar of other holiday programs.
CARE Partnership director Bev Tittle-Baker said many charities set deadlines in the fall that qualified families can miss for a variety of reasons.
"I may have been fine in October, and then lost my job or gotten sick in November," she said.
Because of the way it’s set up, the Emergency Santa list usually adds about 600 names in the week or two before Christmas, she said.
By the time the shop opened for the season on Wednesday, it already had 2,000 kids on the list, as many as last year.
She said she won’t know what’s driving the numbers so high this year until she talks to the families as they file through the "shop" at CARE’s offices. But generally speaking, December can put a lot of economic and social stress on struggling families.
"It’s such a volatile time of year," she said. "The closer we get to Christmas, the more we get domestic violence cases."
Tittle-Baker said although many churches and other groups are also involved, donations are down at the same time the need is soaring. They’re especially short on toys for toddlers, sport balls and board games for the entire family.
Clothes are also in short supply this year, and too many are arriving in poor condition.
Older clothes in good condition are OK, but CARE is getting plenty of matchless socks and other unusable items.
"We say gently used, and we get stuff that’s dirty or torn. They don’t have a washing machine here," Tracey Fisher said while sorting through donations this week.
Families from all over the East and West Valley are being referred to the Emergency Santa program by schools, friends, churches and agencies that don’t have such programs or have one that’s full.
Except for crisis situations, parents are required to perform one hour of community service per child. This can be done at any agency or school, and "the volunteering part can become another resource," Tittle-Baker said.
Once parents make it to the Emergency Santa store, "elves" guide them through the process offilling stockings and picking out clothes, toys and bedding.
Find out more
Donations for the Emergency Santa shop can be dropped off at the CARE Partnership’s Opportunity Center at 466 S. Bellview St. in Mesa. For more information, call (480) 833-8987.