Saving Christmas was never about getting stuff or presents or money for one Quakertown mother, who found a greater gift last year after the heater in her home broke.
All she wanted was to keep her family warm.
Natasha’s story began less than a month before Christmas last year, when she faced a $400 electric bill she couldn’t pay. The heating system broke a few months earlier, and her family had to bundle up in the living room at night, using portable heaters to keep warm.
Then came the electric bill.
“My blessing was disguised by a curse,” said Natasha, who in a quest to find ways to get through that month learned about The Bucks County Opportunity Council’s weatherization program, which offered her a new heating and energy conservation system.
While keeping warm was her main priority, a Christmas celebration with gifts under the tree seemed out of reach.
Supported by The Intelligencer’s annual Give a Christmas fund, BCOC stepped in, giving her Walmart gift cards, vouchers for food for Christmas dinner, and helped set up a subsidized payment plan for her heating bills so did not have to sacrifice basic needs for her family.
Beneath the tree that year was a drawing notebook and charcoal pencils for her college-aged daughter. Her 12-year-old son got the yellow remote racing car he wanted.
“Seeing them happy was my gift,” Natasha said.
Across Bucks County, Give a Christmas fundraising campaigns, run in partnership with The Intelligencer and Bucks County Courier Times, support programs that rescue residents facing emergent needs and deliver financial assistance to individuals and families in need during the holidays. The Bucks County Courier Times and The Intelligencer sponsor separate annual drives, which are administered by two different nonprofit organizations to cover all pockets of the county and neighboring parts of eastern Montgomery County.
Since 1958, more than $5.2 million has been raised for the Bucks County Courier Times and Levittown-Bristol Kiwanis’ Give A Christmas fund, which supports Lower Bucks families in need during the holiday season, and beyond. Every penny donated to the campaign goes to help families purchase holiday gifts for their children, put a holiday meal on their table or pay for other unmet needs.
For Lower Bucks:Help Give A Christmas to neighbors in need
Chair of the Kiwanis initiative, Mary Berman, said most of the vouchers go to the families with children with the assistance of the schools, who help identify those in need.
“This year’s goal is $132,000,” she said.
The Intelligencer partners with The Bucks County Opportunity Council, helping low-income people in Central and Upper Bucks County, as well as parts of Montgomery County. Since 1988, nearly $3.8 million has been raised for The Intelligencer and Bucks County Opportunity Council’s Give A Christmas fund.
Money from the Give A Christmas drives that is not used during the holidays supports locals in need throughout the year with everything from food and rent to employment assistance.
While BCOC helps people with emergency assistance, like rent or utility payments, one of its biggest programs provides support to help clients become self-sufficient. The group assigns a case worker to a client to help them with budget management or finding job training or a better paying position.
More than 500 families have “graduated” from the program, meaning they’ve met goals like finding a job that pays a livable wage and getting into affordable housing, according to Joseph Cuozzo, director of development at BCOC
The council’s self-sufficiency program grew from a realization that one-time giving would not break the cycle of poverty.
They build as much as they benefit people.
Some clients who come through the Give A Christmas program found more than gifts for the holidays.
For help in Central and Upper Bucks:Help Give A Christmas to neighbors in need
It was a life-changer for an early “graduate” from the program who shared her story in The Intelligencer more than a decade ago.
The young woman was homeless, after fleeing an abusive marriage, only with a jar of change in her hand and her 8-year-old daughter by her side. She spent time in a homeless shelter and was barely managing to make ends meet. The council opportunity council. She learned computer training and found out how to better manage her money.
She went onto getting a job at St. Mary Medical Center in Middletown making twice as much as she did in her previous job.
So many stories all point to the respect, not just the financial benefits, that were given.
For Natasha, presents under the tree were just a part of the gift that was given.
She said during that “vulnerable time,” she found strength and faith in “ a greater gift…one that can never be taken away.”
“They were genuinely caring; never frowning down or making you feel inferior. The way they build people when they need it most … everyone should know about what they do.”