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Springfield volunteers for the holiday season

The holidays are fast approaching, and UIS students are encouraged to get involved with the community. Springfield has a lot of great charities to participate in, and Contact Ministries Coordinator Julie Gentry said the number of families in need for the holidays has increased.

“We have seen an increase with families that come to us for the first time. We’ve seen families that normally donate, turn around and ask for help,” Gentry said.

Contact Ministries will provide two programs that will give to those in need.  The Big Annual Christmas Giveaway on December 19 will serve more than 600 Springfield families. A smaller, intimate program aimed at nine single mothers will also provide a “normal” Christmas for their families.

Gentry said the smile on a young child’s face makes the hard work worthwhile. “I’ve been doing these Christmas’ for five years, and I can’t tell you how many times they say it’s the best Christmas they’ve ever had. Just to hear the awe in their voices, because the Christmas tree was so big and grand is worth it!”

Gentry said Contact ministries will receive help from Westminster Presbyterian Church and private donors; Springfield also allows residents to use community service hours to volunteer. Gentry said it is a big help to see people volunteer, and the shelter couldn’t survive without the help of Springfield residents.

“It’s really good for students and residents to see a different side of things and volunteer a little bit,” Gentry explained.

Central Illinois Red Cross Communications Specialist Wesley Lind says that it is more difficult to attract college aged students to volunteer for the holidays. “It’s usually trickier with that age range, because they have more things going on like class, sports, and homework. We do have spontaneous youth volunteers throughout the year; they usually work more with our Comfort Kit Drives,” Lind said.

The Kits are important during the holiday season since they’re given to families that have lost homes due to fires. They contain non-perishable items like soap, deodorant, and toothpaste. Most college students usually volunteer to help put these kits together on their campus, home, or the Red Cross Office.

Lind wants more college students to realize the connivance and opportunities available for Springfield area college students. “We have our Meals on Wheels program, which is good for college students. The Volunteers meet at Memorial Medical Center, where they get assigned a route and a portable oven that includes five to six meals. Most students are done in an hour. There’s not just a need to volunteer for the holidays; students can easily volunteer through January or March,” Lind said.

While the Red Cross focuses more safety, Lind says that it’s important to remember that the winter months will see more local families in need. “During the fall and winter months, we see a large spike in home fires and financial emergency assistance.  For example, back in October we responded to 10 local fires, where we gave assistance to between 40 to 60 people,” Lind said.

That trend will continue until the spring. The issues with the holidays are that families will often turn on heat resources which could cause problems. “A candle could tip over or they could have a bad heater which displaces people from their homes,” Lind explained.

The Red Cross’ goal is to give families immediate assistance so they can move on with their lives.

For more information on how to volunteer with these organizations this holiday season, or anytime, visit: http://www.contactministries.com/volunteer/ or http://www.il-redcross.org/getinvolved/volunteerinfo.html

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