In most houses, the Christmas tree is up, the stockings are hung by the chimney with care and the gifts are wrapped under the tree.
But for some children in Charles County, Christmas does not come without the help of Christmas Connection.
This year, the Charles County Department of Social Services and the Charles County Children’s Aid Society will help 2,400 children to have a Christmas stocking and gifts under the tree.
“[What’s important about Christmas Connection] is the impact that it has,” Maria Bryan, executive director of the Charles County Children’s Aid Society, said. “You can always tell a program based on its impact, or outcomes [and] measurements. I can guarantee that if you talk to families that get in this program that this is probably the only Christmas they are going to be able to give to their children.”
Pam Vahle, chairwoman of the board of directors of the organization, said that for at least one day, Christmas Connection is able to make a family’s problems go away.
“I think it’s a wonderful program,” Vahle said. “I think that just knowing that we’re helping all the kids that we can in the county is great.”
Despite difficult times, Vahle said, Christmas Connection makes it possible for parents to still have something to give their children and bring smiles to their faces.
“It started out as a partnership of a lot of nonprofits,” Bryan said of the start of the Connection 20 years ago. The agencies involved in the Christmas Connection included the Charles County Department of Social Services, Catholic Charities, Charles County Sheriff’s Office, Charles County Children’s Aid Society and Southern Maryland Tri-County Community Action Committee. Each agency handled a particular element of the event.
Bryan said gradually Children’s Aid Society became the sole agency involved in the Connection because other agencies could not contribute the manpower.
Today, the county’s Department of Social Services generates a list of needy families in the county. Bryan said any family receiving a state benefit, especially food stamps, can qualify, but the event is on a first-come, first-served basis. This year, more than 2,400 families signed up before the application deadline. Bryan said any families Christmas Connection is unable to help will be referred to LifeStyles of Maryland in La Plata.
Bryan has been with Children’s Aid Society for almost 11 years and previously served as a social worker in Charles County. She has participated in organizing Christmas Connection for 16 years and said she has seen donations drop significantly. She said she attributes the decline to the fact that more organizations in the area also are collecting Christmas donations.
Until five or six years ago, tables were set up at the Connection for food donations, balls for boys, dolls for girls and puzzles or board games for the entire family, Bryan said. Now the Connection only has tables for the different age groups, books, school supplies, stockings and accessories. Even the accessories table has changed significantly, Bryan said. A few years ago, each child would have received a scarf, a hat and a pair of gloves, but now maybe each child will receive two of the three accessories.
Last year, Children’s Aid Society received $120,000 in donations for Christmas Connection, Bryan said, including $7,500 in cash donations. This year, each child will receive donations worth about $50.
“Getting the community’s support, I think, makes all the difference,” Bryan said.
Christmas Connection will distribute toys and other items Dec. 17 through 20 to parents who have signed up their children at South Potomac Church in White Plains.
How to help
Want to donate cash, toys or other items to Christmas Connection?
Drop off donations at any of the sites listed on the Children’s Aid Society’s Facebook page, at Children’s Aid Society at 3000 Huntington Circle in Waldorf or call 301-645-1561. Clothes and toys for children younger than 2 and boys 10-13 are especially needed. Donations also are welcome next week during distribution at South Potomac Church, Crain Highway, White Plains.
Want to volunteer during distribution week? Drop by Children’s Aid Society or call Pam Vahle at 301-908-1680.