Helpers of the needy still need help

The Salvation Army distributed holiday gifts yesterday to needy families at its Aiea warehouse. Among those who helped was volunteer Tersy Matto, wheeling out a donated bike. Donations to the agency and others are still down despite a last-minute appeal to the public.

Holiday donations
still lagging despite
last-minute effort

Many agencies say they are
giving out fewer items to a
growing number of families

How to help
Shipyard donations up

By Mary Vorsino

There will still be a Christmas for the less fortunate in Hawaii.

But it won't be as merry as years past.

Donations to the Salvation Army, Toys for Tots, the Lokahi Tree, the Angel Tree and other holiday giving programs are down sharply from last year, despite a last-minute appeal before Christmas.

The shortage means the Salvation Army is borrowing about $35,000 from future donations to make sure people are provided for. The agency is hoping enough money will come in before Jan. 1 so it won't be borrowing against next year's Christmas.

The most the agency has ever had to front in the past is about $4,000, said Maj. Ralph Hood, the Salvation Army's Hawaiian and Pacific Islands divisional commander.

Yesterday, the Salvation Army and other agencies distributed their holiday presents to needy families.

Hundreds of senior citizens lined up at the Salvation Army's Kaluwela Mission Corps in Kalihi and other locations on Oahu to collect much-needed necessities -- blankets, rice cookers, dish towels and pillows -- from the Angel Tree Program.

Salvation Army volunteers Sheldon Tabayoyong, front, and James Pule moved toys to be distributed to the Leeward side yesterday. An agency official said families are receiving 75 percent of the quantity they could have received last year.

Salvation Army Maj. George Rodriguera, who oversees the Kaluwela Mission's donations dispersal, said families are receiving about 75 percent the quantity they could have received last year.

Most, though, are just glad to have anything, even if they're noting the reduction, Rodriguera said.

About 6,000 children and senior citizens this year were helped islandwide by the Angel Tree program, in which donors choose an angel tag that describes a person's age and gift desired from a Christmas tree. But Salvation Army spokesman Daniel De Castro said about 1,000 children and senior citizens in the program are still without donors.

About 140 of the 525 families in the Lokahi Adopt-A-Family program, which provides a holiday meal and gifts for families in need, also were not adopted by donors. Last year, every family participating in the program was helped, de Castro said.

"Some of these families are just able to fill in what their basic needs are. They don't even have extras," he said.

Families not adopted will receive any overflow from the Toys for Tots program, de Castro said. But donations for the Toys for Tots program are down by about half this year. Last year, some 65,000 toys, enough to give two presents to 33,000 Hawaii children in need, were donated. This year, 24,000 toys were collected for 23,000 children.

While donations are down, the need is up this year.

Hood said he knew "we were facing a tight Christmas this year" when statistics showed that since October 2001, 15,000 first-time recipients have asked for aid.

Many longtime holiday donors are struggling to pay their own bills, and some are even asking for aid themselves, Hood said.

A number of the agency's regular donors "spent their savings trying to keep themselves in their homes," he said. "With no savings tucked away, no extras for their family, they're just scraping through this year.

"So how do they help someone else?"

Talk of a war against Iraq is making other residents feel uneasy and may be a factor in the lack of donations, de Castro said.

"There's a lot of hesitation as to how much they gave last year. People are holding back. ... (They are) overcautious of what's going to happen in the future."

Hood is optimistic that "resources will come," even with only three days until Christmas.

"So many people are needing help. Our donating public has been very good about helping us."


To donate:

For more information about donating items to the Salvation Army, call the division headquarters at 988-2136.

Send monetary donations to The Salvation Army, P.O. Box 620, Honolulu, HI 96809.

On the Web:

E-mail to City Desk


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