Community has multitude of ways to assist Salvation Army

WESTFIELD-Close to 100 families have already signed up for assistance this holiday season with the Salvation Army, according to service unit coordinator Laurie Matthews.

“We have seen a steady stream of families seeking either a Thanksgiving meal or presents for their children at Christmas,” said Matthews during Wednesday morning’s holiday sign-up session in the social center of St. Joseph’s National Catholic Church, 73 Main St. 

“We are so blessed and grateful to be partnered with the parishioners of St. Joseph’s Church,” said Matthews, noting that church members are always offering to help the Salvation Army.

Families seeking assistance can meet with a Salvation Army representative Nov. 8-9  or Nov. 12-16 from 9 a.m. to noon at the church. Parents are required to present a photo ID, proof of address and income, proof of children in the household, and birth certificates of the children. Parents can request Christmas gifts for newborns through age 16.

“We’ve been busy and that is a good thing,” said Matthews. “While not everyone needs a meal at Thanksgiving since they may be visiting family and friends, families always need presents for children.”

Matthews said she currently has enough turkeys to meet the needs of the community, but is still in need of basic staples that would complete a Thanksgiving meal.

“Westfield State University is our biggest supporter of turkeys as well as some private individuals,” said Matthews. “Our biggest needs are the fixings – potatoes, gravy, cans of vegetables, cranberry sauce and desserts.”

Since the turkeys will be distributed beginning Nov. 19, Matthews needs the “fixings” in the coming days to put together each package. Donations can be dropped off at the social center during holiday sign-up hours or by contacting Matthews at (413) 977-8759.

After Thanksgiving, Matthews and her “great crew” get to work on ensuring that gifts are available for all of the families in need.

“We currently have 229 children who need gifts,” said Matthews, noting that figure continues to grow each day during sign-ups. “We also have a ‘Adopt-A-Family’ program to help families who are experiencing a hardship at this time.”

Matthews said each family situation is different and she expects to have approximately 20 families who will be part of the program.

“Currently, I have a single mom with twin boys and one of her sons has cancer so she has had to cut back at work to bring her son for treatments four times a week,” said Matthews, noting she already found someone to adopt this family.

“If a family is undergoing a hardship including medical issues or the loss of a job with no income, we want to do more for them,” said Matthews. “There are several Westfield residents, as well as a Westfield YMCA swim group, who always comes through for us and adopt families.”

Matthews added that families can include several children, or sometimes one child and the parents.

“We always encourage donations of gift cards at supermarkets for the parents,” said Matthews.

While this time of year always tends to be more hectic for Matthews and her crew which includes long-time volunteer Anita Barnes, she is especially thankful this holiday season for her daughter, Lisa Wengert, and daughter-in-law Arielle Matthews, who are pitching in on holiday logistics.

“I am so blessed to have Lisa and Arielle helping out,” said Matthews.

Wengert is coordinating the first annual Holiday Candy Dash in the social center at St. Joseph’s Church on Dec. 8 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Area residents are invited to rent a table space which can be decorated in any holiday theme. The cost to participate in the holiday trunk or treat event is a gift card – minimum $10 value – to benefit a low-income family.

“Gift card suggestions include Walmart, iTunes, and fast food restaurants,” said Wengert. “We also request that you pass out treats to children when they visit your table.”

For persons interesting in reserving a table or for more information on the event, contact Wengert at (413) 977-8373 prior to Dec. 1.

“All proceeds raised will benefit the Salvation Army of Westfield,” said Wengert. “Even if someone does not want to rent a table, gift card donations are always welcome.”

Highlights of the Holiday Candy Dash will also include cookie decorating, face paintings, hot chocolate, and raffle prizes. Wengert is also finalizing plans to offer business owners an opportunity to advertise their business with flyers and banners.

“For persons who bring a toy donation for the Salvation Army toy drive, they will also receive a free raffle ticket,” said Wengert.

Lastly, the holidays wouldn’t seem complete without the dedicated Salvation Army bell ringers who will stand at Stop & Shop and Walmart beginning Nov. 23 through Christmas Eve.

Mary Lou Dazelle, a longtime Salvation Army volunteer, will once again coordinate logistics for the iconic red kettles.

“We have two-hour shifts available from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday,” said Dazelle, who can be reached at (413) 562-2910.

Dazelle said she encourages local residents to consider donating some time to help others in need.

“A lot of times people will approach you and share their Salvation Army stories with you,” said Dazelle. “You will experience a lot of gratification from those encounters.”

Dazelle added that money raised during the kettle drive assists people in Westfield who might be in need of food, heating assistance, or clothing.

“I personally tear up when I ring the bells because it is such a worthy cause,” said Dazelle.

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