Where to give and volunteer in Atlanta during the holidays

Helping Mamas, a nonprofit that provides baby supplies to moms in need, received funding from the United Way, community foundations and corporate donations during the pandemic. Employee Karissa Jackson pulls items to fill a request at their Norcross warehouse. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
Helping Mamas, a nonprofit that provides baby supplies to moms in need, received funding from the United Way, community foundations and corporate donations during the pandemic. Employee Karissa Jackson pulls items to fill a request at their Norcross warehouse. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

With effects from COVID-19, more help than ever is needed for others to have a happy, safe holiday.

Needed: Santa’s elves. Yes, it seems that Santa is quarantining in the North Pole, so he’s going to need all his little helpers to step up and ensure Atlantans have a memorable holiday with bellies full of healthy food, and clothes and toys under the tree.

Luckily, there are many charitable organizations ready to bring holiday joy and also to help spread goodwill throughout the new year. However, those organizations are having to overcome incredible challenges, too. For instance, fundraisers have been canceled, fewer people want to volunteer because of the fear of catching COVID, and frankly, the need is greater than anyone has seen in a long time. Here are a number of charities that are helping families during the holidays, as well as during the year. All could use donations, financial assistance and volunteer time.

Toys

The Salvation Army of Metro Atlanta served 39,695 people last year and expects that number to at least double during the holiday season. The Salvation Army collects money and toys for children from infants to 12 years old through its Red Kettle bell ringers and Angel Tree program, where people pick a paper ornament in a store (or online) with a child’s name and wish list and can fulfill it. Last year $1.2 million was raised through the Red Kettle campaign; this year, they say that figure may be halved. Compounding the problem is that there are fewer bell ringers and fewer people going into the stores where they could donate. In addition, many who normally would give are facing financial hardships themselves.

“These are extraordinarily challenging times, and I feel so strongly that if ever there was a time to step up and do what we need to do, it is now,” says Manda Hunt executive director of the Empty Stocking Fund. “Families who, in the past, were struggling, are decimated. Single income turns into no income. It’s unfathomable. These are extraordinary times, and it requires extraordinary thinking from parents, volunteers, nonprofit organizations and corporations.”

The Salvation Army, the Empty Stocking Fund and Clark’s Christmas Kids (done in conjunction with 95.5 WSB and the Georgia Department of Family and Children’s Services] and Lift Up Atlanta are four of the many organizations whose goal is to provide toys and clothes for children. Clark’s Christmas Kids is currently in need of more than 21,000 gifts. Lift Up Atlanta is collecting new toys or gift cards for 500 children as well as sponsoring a food drive. Many religious organizations, such as the Cathedral of Christ the King, have holiday programs. Buckhead Church has a Christmas Connections/Adopt-a-Family program where you can sign up for a family and receive detailed instructions and wish lists. They all operate differently but have stepped up their online presence to reduce personal contact and make it easier for donations.

For almost 100 years, The Empty Stocking Fund provided gifts and toys to children from infants to 12 years old who receive any form of public assistance. Parents or guardians register their children online, and after their eligibility is verified, can shop in the online store. Each child receives six items: two toys/gifts, a book, an educational/developmental item, a personal item and socks. In years past, the shopping and pick-up took place in a large warehouse; this year, it will be in 25 highly sanitized YMCAs throughout the metro area.

The organization, using financial donations, purchases gifts wholesale or from closeout stores. “We may have 480 dolls from a closeout store that we’re buying for 20 cents on the dollar,” she says. Stores and individuals also can donate items. Last year they purchased and distributed about $400,000 in toys and gifts with a retail value of approximately $1million.

Shopping and seeing shelves stocked with toys give parents “the excitement of selecting toys for their children and giving the gift as they see fit. It’s an empowering and dignified and joyful experience,” she says. “It’s like Santa put it under the tree or however the parent wants to do it. But the impact goes so much further.”

The Empty Stocking Fund warehouse at City Hall East.
The Empty Stocking Fund warehouse at City Hall East.

Credit: John Spink

Credit: John Spink

The Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program allows caring individuals to select a child and buy them what they need or want — hopefully both. The children’s names are on trees in stores but also online, and purchases can be shipped to four Angel Tree warehouses. For instance, 9-year-old Jayden in Gwinnett County needs clothes and shoes, but she would love a tablet. Two-year-old Cesar, in Clayton/Fayette County, needs clothes, shoes and a coat, but his holiday would be made if he could have cars and a ball.

Although the Angel Tree program and the Empty Stocking Fund have an age limit of 12 to receive gifts, seniors are also eligible to have an “angel.” For instance, 62-year-old Robeena in Gwinnett needs a CD player, bedding and clothing but would love a watch.

Sue Sullivan, who is on the board of the Decatur/DeKalb YMCA, posted on Nextdoor about families who live in extended stay hotels and needed hot meals. “We had a volunteer program making sandwiches and bringing them to the children, and then COVID hit, and we couldn’t get volunteers. Then, we realized a hot meal was just the beginning. They needed clothes, toiletries. One of the extended stay hotels on Mountain Industrial Drive was charging $1 for a toilet paper roll. These families are living in dismal conditions, and we want to get Christmas gifts and wrap them specifically for these kids.”

The Nextdoor community stepped up and sent money, food, diapers, sanitary products as well as gifts. She is helping about 210 kids in two DeKalb hotels. “No one really knows about these people who are one step closer to being homeless. There is such a need. People want to give and maybe don’t know how, or with COVID, aren’t going out. But the generosity of the people on Nextdoor just blows me away.”

ExploreJoin your family for Thanksgiving — virtually — with these online cooking classes

Food

The Atlanta Community Food Bank estimates that one in four Georgia children — or 20 percent — live in food-insecure households due to COVID. Many grocery stores, schools, religious outlets and civic groups are collecting and distributing food. The Jewish Family & Career Services operates the only Kosher food pantry in the Southeast, but it has since expanded to non-Kosher food as well. “Since the pandemic, the need has been 10 times as much over last year. It’s constant,” says Chantal Spector, marketing manager. Those in need should call the main food pantry line and make an appointment for food with pick-ups three times a week at its Dunwoody headquarters. Those who want to help can become a collection site, donate food or funds and purchase items for the Amazon Wish List.

Atlanta Community Food Bank workers organize food donations for distribution to one of their many food bank partners in Atlanta.
Atlanta Community Food Bank workers organize food donations for distribution to one of their many food bank partners in Atlanta.

Credit: Allison Young

Credit: Allison Young

They also have a program for emergency financial help and have set up a “one good deed” program where a volunteer is matched up with an older adult who calls and just checks on them. “It’s a phone call a week, but it’s a neat opportunity to become friends with someone who is lonely,” she says. The JF&CS could use volunteers and financial donations. “We’re helping more and more people,” she says. “There is such a real need now.”

Hosea Helps, which late civil rights leader Hosea Williams founded in 1971, has expanded its mission from feeding the hungry to rental, utility and employment assistance, as well as emergency shelter and food, and providing fresh produce. Every Christmas, more than 1,000 volunteers traditionally serve more than 7,000 people in one day. In addition to a full hot meal, the organization provides clothing, hair cuts and styling, showers, medical screenings, employment assistance, legal aid and live entertainment for free to anyone who attends. Unlike previous years, holiday events will be outside and drive-thru to keep volunteers and guests safe.

Second Helpings Atlanta is a food rescue organization that picks up fresh surplus food from donors, such as grocery stores and restaurants, and delivers food to various nonprofit agencies, and then they distribute the food donation to needy clients.

“The pandemic has made things so much worse, so many more people in need,” says Andrea Jaron, executive director. “We’re seeing people, who never needed to get food from a pantry or other food source, are going for the first time.” The organization can use volunteer drivers as well as money. “It’s super intense right now.”

Ned Cone volunteers with Second Helpings Atlanta picking up food at Sprouts and Trader Joe's on June 2. The new partnership will use Second Helpings' fleet of vehicles and volunteers. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Ned Cone volunteers with Second Helpings Atlanta picking up food at Sprouts and Trader Joe's on June 2. The new partnership will use Second Helpings' fleet of vehicles and volunteers. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Life’s necessities

Men — and children — do not live by bread alone, and in this time of need, there are many organizations stepping in to fill voids. Nana Grants, for instance, provides child care for single moms who are attending a HOPE-eligible college or university or approved job training programs. “These are single mothers trying to support themselves, get an education and take care of their children,” said Erica Stephens, executive director. However, if the mother can’t afford child care (especially now that many are not physically in school), it becomes difficult, if not impossible, for the mother to continue her education and get ahead. “That’s the gaping hole in our support system. Someone has to take care of the children if the mom is going to work and school.” Currently, Nana Grants helps 26 student mothers with child care support.

Norcross-based Helping Mamas is the “baby supply bank” for Georgia and last year served 30,000 children; this year that number is 50,000. The organization partners with other nonprofits to distribute items such as diapers, wipes, mensuration products and even maternity clothes. “We could use volunteers to help sort and organize what’s coming in and put into kits and packages for families or people to drive the kits to our partners,” says Jamie Lackey, CEO. Of course, money is always welcomed.

Nonprofit Helping Mamas employee Sydney Leimbach pulls diapers for a request at their Norcross warehouse. Thousands of donated diapers came pouring into the 9,000-square-foot warehouse in Norcross, but unlike past years, there were no volunteers to sort the items. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
Nonprofit Helping Mamas employee Sydney Leimbach pulls diapers for a request at their Norcross warehouse. Thousands of donated diapers came pouring into the 9,000-square-foot warehouse in Norcross, but unlike past years, there were no volunteers to sort the items. STEVE SCHAEFER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

Marietta’s Center for Family Resources just finished a strong Thanksgiving drive and helps families in a variety of ways, including operating a food pantry and providing short-term shelter. They step in to help families with rent, child care and transportation assistance or dealing with job loss, divorce or a medical emergency. They provide services to stabilize families in crisis in order to prevent homelessness and hunger. “It’s cash donations that keep us going,” says Melanie Kagan, CEO.

No matter the organization or its specific focus, there is an increasing number of adults and families in need. “I personally believe that the nonprofits are trying to accomplish the general goal of serving children in need. We all need to work together to figure out a way to do it,” says Hunt.

ExploreAJC 2020 Holiday Guide

WHERE TO DONATE AND VOLUNTEER

The Empty Stocking Fund. 404-876-8697, emptystockingfund.org

Salvation Army of Metro Atlanta Angel Tree Atlanta. 404-486-2900, angeltreeatlanta.org

Nana Grants. 770-845-3663, nanagrants.org

Center for Family Resources. 770-428-2601, thecrf.org

Helping Mamas. 770-985-8010, helpingmamas.org

Second Helpings Atlanta. 678-894-9761, secondhelpingsatlanta.org

Atlanta Community Food Bank. 404-892-3333, acfb.org

Jewish Family & Career Services. 770-677-9300, jfcsatl.org

Clark’s Christmas Kids. clarkschristmaskids.com

Lift Up Atlanta. 678-245-4622, liftupatlanta.org

Cathedral of Christ the King Christmas Connections Adopt-A-Family. 404-717-9589, cathedralctk.com

Hosea Helps. 404-755-3353, 4hosea.org

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