Aid program sees growing need Sponsors give food, gifts to poor

A record number of turkeys and toys likely will be distributed to needy Harford County families this Christmas -- if organizers of a major holiday assistance program can keep up with the demand.

Last Christmas, Neighbors in Need, the emergency aid program that operates through the Harford County Department of Social Services, provided food, toys and clothing to 2,800 families in the county, said program director, Joy Rich.


"We'll easily surpass that number this year," she said. "We still have applications coming in every day."

Ms. Rich, who has been helping to make holidays happy for families in financial crisis for the last five years, said Neighbors in Need has enlisted more than 600 "sponsors" for Christmas 1992.


Sponsors -- churches, businesses, civic groups, private clubs and individuals -- "adopt" a family for the season and provide their Christmas dinner and gifts, including clothing and toys.

Some sponsors offer even more, like a Christmas tree or extra groceries. Some adopt several families.

Neighbors In Need also handles individual donations of food and new toys not earmarked for a specific family but to stock a pool of gifts to meet last-minute Christmas requests.

"Last year, on [December] 23rd and 24th, we handled 87 families as emergency cases," she said, noting that people seeking aid for the first time often wait until the last minute to admit they need help.

"Last year was the year to see the [needy] population change from people on food stamps to a population that had never received help before," she said. "That was the real transition year. "This year, many of those same people are still in need; they still haven't found jobs."

Ms. Rich estimated that 400 of the 2,650 families for whom Christmas sponsors have been found have not received aid before.

As the countdown to Christmas Eve continues, she said, it's difficult to foresee what donations might be needed most.

"I never know the actual need until that day," she said. "But right now, we seem to need gifts that are appropriate for teen-agers: new articles of clothing or personal items, including practical things like socks and school supplies."


She said Harford countians have been generous with canned goods because public pleas for nonperishable foods have become commonplace. "But we could really use gift certificates from local grocery stores or actual donations of hams and turkeys," she added.

In fact, she said, "anything people want to donate can probably ** be used, as long as they are new, not used, items."

The organization also is accepting cash that will be used to buy items for needy families.


Donations to Neighbors in Need will be accepted at the Department of Social Services, 2 S. Bond St., through Christmas Eve. Information: 836-4980 or 836-4778.