The first snow has fallen, Thanksgiving is here, and the holiday season is in full swing, welcoming a time of cheer, food and gifts, of course. But for some Howard County families, the holiday season is a time of struggle.
Howard’s branch of The Salvation Army, in Ellicott City, is one of many organizations extending a helping hand with its annual Angel Tree program.
The Christmas assistance program allows families who have children from birth to 12 years old to register to be an angel family and are adopted by community members. The families receive three gifts and two outfits for each of their children through the program.
“We help these families and children have a better Christmas the they would not have otherwise,” said Sue Hunt, director of the Howard Salvation Army. “We help families provide for their children.”
The Ellicott City location has 488 families registered, Hunt said.
From Friday until Dec. 8, the Salvation Army will have a table in the Columbia mall to assign the remaining angels.
Hunt has senior angels as well, those 55 years and older who receive assistance during the holiday season. Senior angels receive a food box and a gift card, either to a grocery or retail chain store.
“We assist pretty much anyone who has a need,” Hunt said. “Even if they don’t have children in the age range.”
A Christmas Shop takes over half of the store with mostly thrift-shop items for sale at a discount, Hunt said. The shop features anything from Christmas trees, Christmas lights, train sets, toys and wrapping paper.
The Howard branch also participates in the Salvation Army’s yearly kettle program, where bell ringers stand outside department stores, grocery stores, and other public spaces, to raise money for the organization. The funds are used to fund year-round services that the Salvation Army provides.
Bell ringers will be at all the Giant supermarkets in Howard, as well as the Macy’s and J.C. Penney in the Columbia mall and Walmarts in Ellicott City and Columbia.
Considered one of the nation’s wealthiest counties, Howard’s median household income was recorded as $113,800 in 2016.
United Way released its yearly ALICE report in September, showing an estimated one-in-four Howard households make less than the $85,800 “survival budget” needed to cover bare necessities — child care, food, health care and housing.
ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed — the working poor.
The poverty rate in Howard County was estimated to be 5.2 percent in 2017, according to the Census Bureau.
United Way of Central Maryland has taken a big focus on events surrounding this year’s holiday season to ensure the nonprofit can support as many people as possible.
“We always say ‘imagine a kid waking on Christmas [Day] in a situation that is not ideal and not having any presents,” said Beth Littrell, volunteer director of United Way of Central Maryland. “That happens so often, we get so many calls in Central Maryland begging for holiday assistance.”
The organization covers Howard, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll and Harford counties and Baltimore City.
It also runs an Adopt A Family that provides gifts and clothing provided by donors.