December 9, 2009

Helping to brighten the holidays

By Tina Foreman
Farmer Staff Writer

Christmas is meant to be a bright time of year. But for the less fortunate or those down on their luck financially, it can be a difficult time filled with stress and despair, especially if you have children.
McKenzie County Social Services is working to ensure that Christmas is a bright and happy time for all of McKenzie County’s residents. Each year they set up a Giving Tree filled with ornaments for families needing assistance during the holidays. This year’s tree contained 45 ornaments filled with gift ideas for children from 18 area families.
“We are so fortunate because this is a very giving community,” says Amy Fast, McKenzie County Social Services director. “Each year we set up the tree and the gift tags are gone within a day. It is a great feeling knowing that we never have to worry that some of the tags will be left behind.”
The Giving Tree contains gift tags with information about a child in the community whose parents may not be able to provide gifts for Christmas. The tag includes clothing sizes and the child’s Christmas wishes. The tag recipient purchases gifts for the child and brings them unwrapped to the Post Office so Social Services can wrap them and distribute them confidentially.
“Every child in McKenzie County deserves to have a gift to open this Christmas,” adds Fast. “This is not a government-based program. No one is ever turned down for the Giving Tree.”
In addition to the Giving Tree, Social Services also provides a Christmas meal to those who need it. Social Services uses donations for the Christmas food baskets with eight families on the list to receive them this year.
“We try to include everything a family will need for a great Christmas meal,” says Stacy Arnegard, McKenzie County Social Services social worker. “Throughout the past five years we usually only needed one or two food baskets, but as the community has been growing so is our list.”
According to Fast, their holiday giving isn’t limited to families with small children.
“Our help is open to anyone, whether they are a Social Service client or someone who has never been to our office, but is struggling this holiday season,” states Fast. “We don’t ever want people to feel bad or be embarrassed about asking for help. We want everyone to know that it’s not a big deal, because we are here to help.”
The holiday giving project is an effort of the entire Social Services office, especially once the gifts and food have all been purchased and it’s time to wrap and deliver.
“Gifts are due at the Post Office on Dec. 11 and we will spend the entire following week getting things ready,” says Fast. “Last year was my first year in Watford City and I was absolutely amazed at how giving this community is. Our conference room was packed with gifts and you could barely walk down the hallway it was so full.”
McKenzie County Social Services sends letters to all of their clients including options for holiday assistance. But they know that not everyone who needs help this holiday season is a client of theirs, so they encourage the community to let them know if you know of anyone who may need a little help this holiday season.
“If you know of anyone in the county that may need our assistance during the holidays, whether it’s with gifts or food, please contact our office so we can send them a letter,” stresses Arnegard. “It all remains anonymous. We won’t tell the recipient how we got their name, and the recipient’s information doesn’t leave our office.”
It takes a lot from Social Services as well as the community to make a project like this happen. According to Arnegard, the clubs and businesses of McKenzie County have been very generous this year and in years past.
If you know someone who may need a boost this holiday season, Social Services will be accepting donations and names until Dec. 11. For more information call them at 444-3661.