Sumter Salvation Army has worked tirelessly this past month with its annual Christmas Assistance Program, and volunteers saw an increased number of donors and children in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Local families, individuals and businesses came together during these difficult times to adopt children in the program and donated toys, bikes and other gifts to The Salvation Army's many donation drives for the sake of others.
"It's been a very busy year," Salvation Army Corps Officer Lt. Lara Sassano said. "We have a process by which people come in and apply with us. Those applications this year took place over a total of three weeks."
The Salvation Army served children between ages 0-10 through the assistance program this year. They had 175 registered families representing almost 400 children in Sumter, Lee and Clarendon counties, according to Sassano.
"We set aside more than twice the time as last year to take applications so that we could do it safely for everyone involved," Sassano said. "Overall, we have seen a significant increase in requests for emergency assistance starting late this summer and carrying into the fall."
From utility bill to emergency food assistance, The Salvation Army saw more assistance requests and community support throughout 2020. Even the toy and food drives saw an increase in support.
"Donations at Stuff A Bus were critical in helping to restock our food pantry," Sassano said. "The need this year is great, and we hope that this assistance helps make Christmas a little easier, brighter and warmer for those who are struggling as well."
The Christmas Assistance Program also included The Salvation Army's Angel Tree, where donors could pull a tag off a Christmas tree at Continental Tire or the Walmart on Broad Street and gift a child on the tag with a present the child requested.
"This year, the support from the community has been absolutely overwhelming," Sassano said. "Donors have gone above and beyond on what they were able to provide for these families."
According to Sassano, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control provided coloring books for the children as a means to help them understand COVID-19. They also received face masks.
"This year, a lot of people are hurting, and kids' lives have been turned upside down in every possible way," Sassano said. "To just have the opportunity to have a nice Christmas, I think, is meaningful just as much as but even more than any other year."
Volunteers will be helping pass donations out in a drive-through format to reduce person-to-person contact and the spread of COVID-19, Sassano said. No child or family that registered will go without a Merry Christmas this year.
"This is just a way of helping some kids and giving them something to smile about," Sassano said. "A reason to hope for the holidays and the new year."
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