For years, The Salvation Army and Love INC have cooperated to make sure that no Huntington County family goes without a merry Christmas.
This year, the two organizations have taken that cooperation a step further with the Salvation Army taking over all responsibility for the adopt-a-family program.
Previously, each of the organizations operated its own adopt-a-family program, exchanging information to make sure the assistance wasn't duplicated.
The change will allow Love INC to move in a slightly different direction, says Joey Spiegel, the agency's executive director. Instead of handing out free food and toys, Love INC will operate a Christmas shop where, after making a small contribution, families can pick out a specified number of gifts.
"We realize that for some of the parents who come through adopt-a-family, it is embarrassing," Spiegel says. "We wanted to offer another option for families that have a little more means. We want to make it a little more dignified for those parents."
"We have some parents who want to be able to provide Christmas for themselves," says Kyle Miller, Love INC's ministry coordinator.
"What we're trying to do is create more opportunity," Miller says. "I think we're going to cover the needs of more families."
The Salvation Army will continue to operate a toy shop where gifts can be acquired for free, says Capt. Barbara McCauley, offering help to families that are harder hit.
At Love INC, parents will make a per-child contribution for admission to the store. That contribution will allow them to select a certain number of items from the store, Spiegel explains.
Spiegel wants to set up a wrapping station at the Love INC Christmas shop and offer activities for the children.
Both the Salvation Army and Love INC programs will remain "very dependent on the community to donate," Miller says.
In the adopt-a-family program, which will become the exclusive responsibility of The Salvation Army, information is collected about families in need and passed on to individuals, families, organizations, churches or businesses who want to fill those needs.
Gifts are returned to The Salvation Army for distribution to the families.
The Markle-based Karing for Kids, which sponsors a similar program, will continue to operate independently.
Last year, The Salvation Army assisted approximately 265 families through its Christmas adopt-a-family program, McCauley says. Love INC's adopt-a-family program assisted about 346 families, Miller says.
McCauley - noting that she came to Huntington from Detroit, where the number of families seeking assistance was much greater - doesn't see a problem with more than doubling the church's adopt-a-family program.
"We'll be able to take that on," she says. "Ours is more than a Christmas assistance program. It's an outreach of our church."
"We'll still be working together," Miller adds.
"We'll take on the folks who have been working with Love who want to adopt families," McCauley says. "When families come in who want to adopt a family, we'll ask them what size families they want, whether they want older kids, younger kids. We try to mach it as closely as we can."
At The Salvation Army toy shop, she says, families can pick out gifts, clothing, hats, gloves, toys and stocking suffers. They'll also receive a box of food.
The Salvation Army toy shop serves children from birth through age 17, while Love INC's Christmas shop will offer items for children from birth through high school.
Applications for assistance from either organization will be taken beginning Monday, Oct. 21. Applications will be accepted through Dec. 5.
The Salvation Army toy shop, which McCauley says is designed for families who are not adopted by the community, will be open Dec. 18 and 19, by appointment.
The Love INC Christmas shop will be open Dec. 18, 19 and 20, also by appointment.
The Salvation Army adopt-a-family packages will be distributed Dec. 18 and 19.
Both The Salvation Army and Love INC provide assistance to Huntington County residents. Other than the residency requirement, McCauley says, there aren't any hard-and-fast rules.
"Ours is on a case by case basis," McCauley says. "If a family has unexpected expenses, maybe the water heater goes out, that's their Christmas."
Applicants for assistance can call either agency and will be referred to the appropriate organization.
Both Love INC and The Salvation Army are seeking donations for their Christmas shops, and those donations shouldn't be limited to toys, Spiegel says.
Needs run the gamut from perfume, cologne and jewelry to trucks, Legos and action figures, Spiegel says.
"We do it wish list style," Miller says of he donations needed for the Christmas stores. "People can call either agency for a wish list."
And both organizations are hoping people will give early.
"The sooner we get it, the easier it is to process," Spiegel says.
The Salvation Army is working with the Toys for Tots program to collect donations for its toy shop, McCauley says.
McCauley says that with the increased number of families to be served, The Salvation Army will need more volunteers to assist with setting up and operating the toy shop, and sorting and packing food boxes.
Spiegel, too, says Love INC will be in need of volunteers to help stock and operate the Christmas shop there.
Spiegel says the need in the community continues to increase, although not at the levels seen a few years ago.
"In 2010, it just shot up," he says. "It still hasn't started going down or leveling off."
"With layoffs, people are going to start feeling the pinch," McCauley says. "We have families that, month to month, can probably make it - but not holidays."
For information, to apply for assistance or to volunteer to assist in any way, call:
• The Salvation Army, 356-3485.
• Love INC, 356-0933.
Complete caption: Kyle Miller and Joey Spiegel, both of Love INC, and Salvation Army Capt. Barbara McCauley (from left) are working together to make some changes in the Christmas assistance program in Huntington County. The Salvation Army will assume sole responsibility for the adopt-a-family program and continue to operate its free toy shop. Love INC will open a Christmas shop for families who can afford to bear a small portion of the expense. Applications for assistance from both organizations will be accepted beginning Monday, Oct. 21.