MERCED — Leaders of Merceds Salvation Army Corps say the needs of the community are great as Christmas approaches, but so are the people who donate to A Helping Hand at Christmas.
The program, jointly conducted by the Salvation Army and the Merced Sun-Star, is in its 26th year with a $55,000 fundraising goal. Local donors contributed $50,500 to the 2012 relief drive.
Elaine Gale, who has been Helping Hand coordinator for about 15 years, believes the local economy is getting a little stronger this year. Still, there is great need locally, particularly for rental assistance, help with utility payments or car repairs.
Gale, whose husband, the late Everett Gale, was on the Salvation Army board for about 35 years, said its on her heart to help people. She has been a member of the advisory board for about five years.
I want to be a servant to the community, help meet the needs of the less fortunate. Its (Salvation Army) a Christian organization and I like to pray with people, too, Gale said. We offer them that opportunity.
Lt. Luke Betti, the Salvation Armys pro tem corps officer here, said the need for help appears great. Just driving around Merced neighborhoods, Betti said, he has noticed many signs of need.
Betti said more than 80 families are on a waiting list for help. Gale said she will start interviewing applicants for aid this week. Appointments must be made in advance, and people must bring in copies of their utility bills, a rental agreement and some form of information about their income.
The Helping Hand program was founded by John Wainwright, a longtime Merced real estate agent and local developer who died Sept. 4, 2011; he saw that a similar program was prospering in Monterey and thought it would work here.
Since its founding, Helping Hand has generated about $1.2 million for the Salvation Army to help individuals and families.
Jason Cross, the Sun-Stars publisher and ad director, extols the Helping Hand program.
This is a great effort to help our local community in need, and the Sun-Star is grateful to have been a part of its success for decades, Cross said. Joining in and helping people in need is what makes our country and this community great simply, the people. I encourage you to join in and help the Salvation Army reach their goal this year and show that Merced does stand together.
Gale wants to spread the word about what the Salvation Army does. Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army provide rental assistance, and the Salvation Army will be giving 350 food baskets to needy families from the Helping Hand fund.
People make contributions through the newspaper, which publicizes the ongoing effort and keeps a list of program donors.
Donations to A Helping Hand at Christmas may be sent to 23 W. Alexander Ave., PMB 68, Merced 95348; donors can have an appropriate message of 10 words or less printed in the Merced Sun-Star or can remain anonymous.
For more information, contact the Salvation Army at (209) 383-4225.
Sun-Star staff writer Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or email@example.com.