My mother struggled with holiday depression. She did her mighty best to put on a festive face for my brother and me. The house was decorated to the hilt and our church activities played a big part.
As I grew up, it was harder. Inevitably, some of her melancholy affected me, so I always approached the Christmas season with a little sadness and trepidation.
Then I came to Pickens County and my life changed forever.
I discovered that charity Christmas assistance programs ramped up and ended in early November. Most struggling families were not thinking of providing presents for their children until the week before Christmas.
At the same time, many United Way donors and volunteers, in the rapture of Christmas spirit, turned to me to identify a “poor” family they could adopt. I became the only Christmas game in town.
I was terrible at it. I had such a hard time figuring out who was truly needy. As a result, I helped every single person who asked. I also felt compelled to make sure the donor’s benevolent wishes were beyond fulfilled.
Secretly, I will admit to you that I felt pretty darn righteous. I used this holiday “power” to compensate for my own issues. I stressed everyone out, especially myself.
Then I read the book “Toxic Charity” by Robert D. Lupton and I realized that I wasn’t helping. I was hurting these families. Something was about to profoundly change.
United Way of Pickens County partnered with The Dream Center of Pickens County, purchased the book “Toxic Charity,” and invited the community to a forum. Over 100 agencies and churches “heard” the message. They were potentially hurting the people we were trying to help.
Here’s what changed:
• The Dream Center of Pickens County created “The Santa Shop.” It is the most transformational, empowering, amazing program ever.
• United Way of Pickens County created the Rob Webber Fund for Homeless and Impoverished Children to support the four School District of Pickens County Family Liaisons. These amazing women work with the families of the almost 2,000 school age children identified by the School District as homeless or living in substandard conditions. They are my “go to” folks when I am called upon to “match” people. Now I am not the only game in town.
• Let’s not forget our elderly. For years, we’ve partnered with the residents of the Cliffs at Keowee Vineyards and Pickens County Meals on Wheels to provide Christmas Cheer baskets filled with food and other goodies. It’s the most rewarding project to remember those who are so often forgotten at Christmas.
This past fall, United Way received a call from PetSmart of Easley asking us to coordinate the distribution of “cat and dog” toys. “Of course,” we said, picturing catnip mice and rawhide bones.
Secretly, I wondered why they would choose United Way for a pet project.
The toys turned out to be stuffed kitties and puppies. They needed our help to distribute them to agencies, police and fire departments and others who reach out to folks in need of a cuddly friend. To date we have received hundreds and hundreds of fluffy pals.
I always work the Christmas season which allows my colleagues well-earned time off with their families. I will be on the front lines this holiday season and now I embrace it.
Pickens County is an amazing community filled with generous, caring people and through them, they have made Sugar Plum Fairies dance in my head. For that, I’ll be eternally grateful.
Merry Christmas, Pickens County.
Julie Capaldi is president of United Way of Pickens County. She can be reached at [email protected] or 864-850-7094, extension 101.