Salvation Army brightens Christmas for working parents

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Catherine W. Idzerda
December 18, 2013

JANESVILLE--We've all had that moment when, in the middle of a charitable act, we wonder, “Will this do any good?”

Many of us also have had those less noble moments when we think, “This isn't really needed” or “Why should I provide for someone else?”

On Wednesday, those unspoken questions were answered with the stories of ordinary people, most of them working parents, who came to the Pontiac Convention Center in Janesville for the Salvation Army's Toys for Tots distribution.

Who came?

Mostly working parents.

“I don't think we really know the face of the poor anymore,” Salvation Army Maj. Ruth Fay said.  “There are so many people who fall through the cracks.”

Working people often don't qualify for welfare benefits. If they do, they don't have enough money for the extras such as Christmas presents.

Others are between jobs.

Shari Renken, Janesville, said it was the second time she had been to Toys for Tots.  She has three boys and one girl.

“Jobs are hard to find,” Renken said. 

A job might not come with enough hours or might not pay enough to cover day care.

Christmas means a lot to kids, she said.

“They love getting presents under the tree,” Renken said.

Her son, who loves to build things, is getting an Erector set. Her daughter is getting one of the season's most popular craft toys.

For Alicia Selover, Janesville, Christmas presents will provide a brief respite from grief.

She has two children, ages 6 and 8, and their father died days before Thanksgiving.

Previously, she volunteered at her children's school, but now that he's gone, she's looking for work.

“This will be their first Christmas without him,” Selover said. “They'll be thinking mainly about their dad, but this will help cheer things up.”

Stephanie Loveland is a working as a hairstylist, but has two girls and a boy to provide for at Christmas.

“The holidays are tough,” she said.

Even the most basic gift costs $7 to $10, and as kids get older, “the more expensive it gets.”

In the center's main room Wednesday, gold, silver and white holiday decorations hung from the ceiling. Beneath them, folding tables formed two large squares, one along the exterior wall and another on the inside.

The tables were covered with toys, grouped by ages and style. Another room contained underclothes and baby items. 

In the past, parents gave the Salvation Army the ages and genders of their children but often didn't add much information about what their children wanted.

“A lot of time people just wrote, 'Whatever you think is best,'” said Carol Goldstein, Salvation Army volunteer and auxiliary member.

Then, when the parents came in, they were handed a bag of age-appropriate items.

This year, however, parents got to pick gifts for their kids. The convention center gave the Salvation Army a discounted rate on the rental, and Hufcor underwrote the cost, said Maj. Ruth Fay of the Janesville Salvation Army.

“We wanted to create the emotional atmosphere of Christmas,” Fay said.

Parents were assigned volunteers before perusing the tables, picking two gifts for each child. They also received a bag of stocking stuffers, a stuffed animal and socks, underwear, scarves and mittens.

Goldstein said that it isn't just Christmas morning that's important.

“When kids get back to school, everyone will be saying, 'I got this' and 'I got that,'” Goldstein said.

So, will it matter?  And will it do any good?

Ask Fay, Goldstein or any of the working parents who came through the door, and they will tell you that every Erector set, every set of action figures, every Rainbow Loom, every soccer ball, “Lil' Sprouts” Cabbage Patch Kid and Avatar Battle Gilder—every one of them—matters and has the potential to do a world of good both for the parents who give them and the children who get them.

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