Roberta Steinle can only guess why donations to Neighbors Helping Neighbors, the program that provides and coordinates food baskets and food gift cards to needy families and individuals at Thanksgiving and Christmas, have seen a dramatic drop this year. She suggests that maybe people have given to Hurricane Sandy relief, or that people don’t have the money or that they just haven’t gotten into the Christmas spirit.At this time last year $8,500 had been donated to the program. As of Tuesday, total donations hovered around $5,300. Running the program to assist more than 700 families and individuals requires the generosity of scores of churches and organizations that provide baskets and about $25,000 in cash that is used to purchase $20 food gift cards. Depending on the size of a family they may get more than one card.
Steinle is a project coordinator for the city’s Department of Human services that overseas the community-based program.
In addition to the $5,300 given so far, Steinle said she expects another $8,000 from “casual days,” where city workers pay a dollar to “dress down” for the day. That leaves more than $11,000 to be raised to cover projected costs.
But no one will go without assures Steinle. That’s because the program operates with a one-year reserve. In effect, donations this year will go to carry on the program next year.So far, Steinle said, 358 families or individuals have signed up for a Christmas basket or gift card. Applicants are checked for residency and income guidelines. A major role of the program is to coordinate giving efforts across the city so that some families don’t end up with an abundance of food while others get none.
Steinle is counting on the Rotary Club of Warwick providing 100 Christmas baskets and St. Kevin and St. Peter Churches putting together another 50 and 25, respectively. There are a larger number of baskets at Thanksgiving because more churches and organizations give them at that time and because St. Gregory the Great Church gives 150.In the early years of Neighbors Helping Neighbors, which was formed by participating groups, the city’s senior centers played an important role. Rather than gift cards, bags were made up with the help of senior volunteers and distributed from the Buttonwoods or Pilgrim centers. The process was labor intensive and required teamwork as bunches of fresh celery, potatoes, canned goods and, finally, a frozen turkey was packed into paper bags. The Rotary Club, churches and other organizations were given names and addresses to make deliveries. That has all been streamlined with the use of gift cards and basket distribution points.
Steinle remains hopeful donations will pick up. Checks can be made to Neighbors Helping Neighbors and dropped off or mailed to the Warwick Beacon, 1944 Warwick Ave., Warwick, RI 02889. The Warwick Beacon has been a part of the program for decades.
“We still have the fire department and they usually come through,” said Steinle. “We’ll do what we do,” she said optimistically.