Program helps low-income families enjoy the holidays

NASHUA – In 78 short days, jolly old St. Nicholas will be making his rounds, brining cheer and good tidings to all.

In Nashua, though, planning for the holiday season already is underway, as the United Way of Greater Nashua and The Telegraph team up for the annual Santa Fund benefit.

The program – which has a goal of $75,000 this year – assists low-income families so they are able to enjoy the holiday season. Through the fund, families will get assistance with providing their children with a variety of gifts, from toys to gift cards and more.

Three area nonprofits will benefit from the fund this year, including the Front Door Agency and The Salvation Army in Nashua and SHARE Outreach, located in Milford.

“We are thrilled to be a part of this again,” said Rosemarie Dykeman, the social services director at The Salvation Army in Nashua. “The Salvation Army has a wonderful relationship with all the different agencies here in the community, and I love collaborating with other organizations to see how we can better serve the people in the Greater Nashua area.”

“The need during Christmas is always extremely high,” Dykeman added. “Many families come in but don’t have the opportunity to provide their children with the holiday experience that they would like, and this gives them that opportunity. Many of them are working parents that just do not make enough in their monthly income to cover this. And, they are so grateful to be able to help and service children from newborn to all the way through high school seniors.”

Maryse Wirbal, the director of the Front Door Agency said the group has been partnering with The Telegraph on the Santa Fund since 1996.

“It has made a significant difference in the lives of the families of our community,” Wirbal said. “Just seeing the parents have that ability of knowing that they can have something for their kinds brand-new, not something that they have to rely on – hope they can get – that is used.”

“All of the kids in our program actually receive at least one of their special requests,” Wirbal added. “We take wish lists for all of the children, all of their sizes, and we ensure that they get at least one of those items that they specifically asked for. There is nothing more heartbreaking when you personally can’t get something for your own child, so to know that they are going to have that is really, really special. They (parents) don’t have to choose between paying their rent that month or buying something for their child just to make them fit in.”

Christine Janson, the executive director of SHARE Outreach Inc., echoed Wirbal’s sentiment on children not feeling like they fit in during the holiday season.

“We are excited to be a part of this for the first time,” Janson said. “This program allows parents the time to breathe and be able to give their kids a great holiday. I think, for us in the Souhegan Vallay, poverty looks different than what it looks here (in Nashua). One of the reasons is because when you look at the schools, there is one elementary school, there is one middle school and there is one high school in each town. So, kids of all income levels are mixed there.”

“All kids want what other kids have,” Janson added. “They want to be the same. This is an opportunity to be that equalizer. To have that gift card when you go to the mall, or to be able to go to GameStop and buy a game, or these kinds of things. Kids don’t know that they are poor. They don’t understand why Santa left Johnny something and they didn’t get something. This is an opportunity for us to give that to the families. It’s a big community event, and not just about the agencies.”

This year, the United Way will be the fiscal agent for the Santa Fund.

“This is new in that we’re the fiscal agent for the program, so when people donate to something typically, we’re sort of the clearing house for the entire program. All donations come into United Way and will be held by us and then distributed to the three recipient agencies,” said United Way Executive Director Mike Apfelberg.

“This is not the typical program we get involved with at the United Way. Typically, we get involved with investing in programs that have measurable outcomes, changes we can see,” Apfelberg added. “However, I think there is such a strong psychology around holidays. People will make sacrifices that are not necessarily appropriate trade-offs in order to make sure that little Johnny has a toy. The choices are some things that are not necessarily healthy choices. They are forgoing paying the rent, they are maybe making a late payment on a credit card and incurring interest charges. From that perspective, if this (the Santa Fund) can be a tool to lighten that burden, we are all in on that.”

One thing that stands out to many involved in the Santa Fund in the sense of togetherness and the working toward a common goal.

“It’s the collaboration. To see the community coming together to help others, it’s truly remarkable. You sit back and really take it all in. We don’t turn anybody away,” Wirbal said.

“Collaboration is our mantra in the community,” Apfelberg added. “For me, the fact that we have agencies that partner together and are working toward a common goal, that, for us, is the chip at the table we want to have.”

“They just get excited. I think the greatest joy I have is watching the families when they receive their gifts,” Dykeman noted. “It just makes you want to cry. They are just so grateful and appreciative of the community. We are blessed to be in a really wonderful, supportive, welcoming community.”

Some suggested donations for the Santa Fund are: Gift cards from a variety of locations, such as Chunky’s Movie Theater, Target, Best Buy, GameStop, Barnes & Noble and Old Navy; gift sets from Bath and Body Works; games for the PlayStation 4, XBox, Wii, XBox 360 and other consols; Disney movie-themed princesses; Legos; baby toys; trains; twin and full-size comforters and sheet sets; winter coats and winter boots.

This year, Santa Fund donations will be accepted online, as well. Those wishing to make a monetary donation can use their MasterCard, Visa, Discover or American Express card on a secure online portal. The Web address for that portal is Donations are fully tax deductible, and an online receipt will be provided for each donation.

Donations also can be made by check, made out to the United Way of Greater Nashua, with Santa Fund written in the memo line. Cash donations can be dropped off at the United Way office, located at 20 Broad St.

Total contributions can be tracked at