If there ever was a Christmas season during which the fortunate among us should go a little above the normal in our giving, this is it.
Mostly because of Hurricane Harvey, which displaced perhaps 40,000 people, damaged thousands of homes and businesses across the county and destroyed tons of possessions that had belonged to our neighbors, Galveston County charitable organizations need more toys than usual this Christmas.
“There is a great need,” Chris Delesandri, executive director of United Way Galveston County Mainland told a Daily News reporter Thursday. “The devastation is not only for the kids. All the agencies are scraping together for Christmas.”
It’s not hard to empathize with families attempting to get their lives back together after the flooding of late August. Their expenses are way up. Their incomes may be way down. Some are having to pay rent and mortgages at the same time. Some of those are facing the very real possibility of losing their homes to foreclosure.
Many have had to replace automobiles and other expensive essentials such a refrigerators, washers and dryers with whatever savings they had on hand.
Understandably, more people than usual are having a hard time fitting Christmas gifts for their children into budgets that are very tight at best.
The Salvation Army of Galveston County, for example, reported almost three times as many requests this year for its annual Angel Tree program that provides toys and clothes to children as Christmas presents.
The organization had 1,026 requests in 2016; this year it had more than 3,000 requests, Salvation Army Capt. Jennifer Jones said.
More than 820 children in the Angel Tree program were still waiting Thursday for someone to choose their card and agree to buy them an outfit, a special toy the child requested and a book for Christmas.
The deadline to donate gifts for an Angel Tree child is Monday, but the agency is looking for whatever donations it can get.
“We are worried about a toy shortage this year,” Jones said.
Most of the requests came from Dickinson, but residents in other parts of the county also applied for the holiday help, including some in Friendswood, said Holly McDonald, director of development for The Salvation Army of Galveston County.
“We knew recovery was going to be long,” Jones said. “It’s a horrible stress for families at Christmas.”
Interfaith Caring Ministries in League City also has seen a surge in requests for help, grants manager David Watkins said.
“The last couple of months, we’ve been the busiest I’ve ever seen the agency,” Watkins said. “And it hasn’t slowed down.”
Many people going to the agency need help paying utility bills and are getting groceries from the organization’s food bank, he said. They also sign up for a toy giveaway that the agency is having Dec. 12. The agency is looking for toy donations now through Dec. 8, Watkins said.
“They were making ends meet and had savings,” Watkins said. “All of a sudden, they lost a job or a business. They lived off savings for a couple of months.”
In October, the agency helped 60 households in northern Galveston County and 64 in Harris County.
“That’s the busiest month we’ve had in at least five years,” Watkins said.
Besides donations and Angel Tree adoptions, The Salvation Army needs help sorting toys and goodies in preparation for the Dec. 16 distribution day.
“I desperately need volunteers,” she said.
Jones also would like some musical groups to play for families during the distribution day, she said.
A lot of Harvey victims are refusing help, Delesandri said.
“They’ve never asked for help in their lives,” he said. “That’s one of the concerns. A lot of people who need help won’t ask for help. I don’t know how you put a number on that.”
We urge our neighbors who can to give, and we urge our neighbors who need, to take. There’s no shame in it. The floods of Hurricane Harvey were more than any one of us could deal with alone.
Times likes these are why we live in communities.
• Michael A. Smith