Story by Emily Burgess
United Way of the Lowcountry is busy making spirits bright this holiday season through their Operation Holiday Heroes program that serves to ensure children in Beaufort and Jasper Counties receive food and gifts this Christmas.
Operation Holiday Heroes is a collaborative program in which the United Way partners with the Toys for Tots Foundation, The Beaufort Gazette and Island Packet, Deep Well Project, Bluffton Self Help, The Salvation Army of the Lowcountry and Love House Ministries to provide gifts to thousands of children in approximately 1800 families that would not otherwise be able to afford them.
“Christmas is a magical time of year and we want every child in our community to wake up Christmas morning and experience that magic,” said Chrystie Turner, Vice President of Allocations and Community Engagement for United Way of the Lowcountry.
Families apply to participate in the program and must provide a South Carolina ID or driver’s license, proof of residence, birth certificate for each child they want gifts for, and current income/expense information. The rigorous screening process creates accountability and assures that the generous donations are being used in the best way possible. Families can apply for Christmas assistance at the participating organizations. Each one has designated dates and times to apply that run now to December 22nd.
Through Operation Holiday Heroes, each child receives two gifts, a stocking stuffer, and a book to encourage the importance of reading. Several of the sponsors set up a “Toy Shop” in which parents can come and pick out the gifts themselves and even wrap them, allowing parents to have a more hands-on role in their child’s Christmas. The program provides gifts to children up to age 12 with a high need for gifts in the 8 to 12 age range.
Last year the number of families participating jumped to more than 1,800 from less than 1,500 two years ago, due to the impacts of Hurricane Matthew in which many families unexpectedly needed to pay for evacuation; gas, hotels, etc. In those families, 3,936 children received gifts from the program. Numbers are expected to hover in the same margin this year after Tropical Storm Irma swept through the area.
“We receive calls on our HELPLINE every day from people who are struggling to make ends meet and this time of year many parents have to make the hard choice on either spending that last paycheck before Christmas on presents to put under the tree or for utility bills to keep the lights on,” Turner said.
There are many ways for our community to participate and donate to Operation Holiday Heroes. Toys for Tots has provided boxes in businesses and stores across our county to collect new, unwrapped toys. Toys can also be dropped off to any of the United Way offices in Beaufort, Bluffton or Ridgeland, the Salvation Army, Love House Ministries, Bluffton Self Help or the Deep Well Project. Businesses can also request a Toys for Tots box to collect toys or even place a jar in their workplace for monetary donations.
United Way also suggests hosting a holiday or dinner party and asking those attending to bring gifts or financial donations to benefit the program. Donations can be made in honor or memory of a loved one as well.
Monetary donations in either cash or checks (made payable to Operation Holiday Heroes) can be dropped off or mailed to United Way of the Lowcountry at P.O. Box 202 Beaufort, SC 29901 or dropped off at the United Way Beaufort office located at 1277 Ribaut Road. Donations are being accepted through Christmas. Online donations can be made at www.uwlowcountry.org.
For those who are looking to give back this holiday season, the best place to start is right here at home in the lowcountry.