Around this time of year, families are gearing up for the holidays: Switching out short sleeves for sweaters, pulling out the decorations, planning meals, and getting gifts and cards ready to send out to their loved ones. But for those less fortunate, these holiday times add extra pressure. Energy bills will jump up as seasonal summer work tapers off, leaving less money left over at the end of the month. With the added impacts of COVID-19 biting into family budgets, more Watauga families than ever are left to worry about how they will put food on the tables, and what to tell their children and loved ones when there isn’t money to spare for presents.
The Census Bureau’s latest data shows more than 42% of Watauga County residents qualify for food assistance, and more nearly 15% have income less than $10,000 annually. These statistics do not account for the harsh blow COVID-19 has struck to our local economy, meaning even more families in our community are struggling to afford necessities. The difference in income turns the holidays from a joyous time into a stressful ordeal for nearly half of our neighbors.
The Hunger and Health Coalition is Boone’s oldest food pantry, providing services to the area for nearly 40 years. We serve close to 10% of all Watauga residents, and to provide support during the holidays, our annual Sharing Tree program helps low-income families spread joy among their own loved ones. Community members are able to sponsor families by making a donation so that the Hunger and Health Coalition can provide families with gifts for this upcoming holiday season.
Last year the Hunger and Health Coalition gave gifts to 221 children and 58 seniors in need throughout the community. With the pandemic far from over, we expect that number will only rise.
“The winter months are already such a strain for so many families with the rising costs of heating homes and seasonal work falling by the wayside. The global pandemic has only magnified the existing income disparities in our community. This year, we have seen more and more new families seeking assistance with food and medication,” says Elizabeth Young, Executive Director of the Hunger and Health Coalition.
“Everyone deserves to feel cheerful this holiday season and our hope is to continue to offer basic needs gifts through our long-standing Sharing Tree program. In order to best stay safe during COVID-19, we are asking community members to help sponsor a family by donating cash, check, or by a gift card (a minimum of $25 per child) so that parents can purchase gifts. In this wild time, families who have had a really hard time this year can find a little joy,” explains Young.
While celebrating this season, make time to remember that not everyone gets to enjoy the holidays, and help us ensure that every family that asks us for help can get it.
Donations can be made by credit card to the Hunger and Health Coalition via their virtual store on their website (https://www.asimplegesturehc.org/store) or by mailing a check or cash donation to P.O Box 1837, Boone, North Carolina, 28607. All donations must be submitted by December 2nd to ensure enough time for gifts to be purchased for families.
Thank you. If you would like to donate or would like more information on the Sharing Tree, please call (828)262-1628 and ask to speak with Anita Wilson, Director of Operations. We wish you health and safety as this tumultuous year ends and all the best going into a new year.