Social Services Today

DSS partners helped make holidays brighter for many
Jan. 11, 2014 @ 11:58 AM

The holidays were brighter this year for hundreds of Durham County families thanks to some incredible community partnerships and commitment. 

Once again, the Volunteer Center of Durham coordinated a Thanksgiving Dinners Program and “Share Your Christmas” on behalf of the Durham County Department of Social Services.  These programs serve Durham County residents who are unable to provide for themselves and their families during the holidays. 

In both programs, families in need are referred by a DSS social worker to the Volunteer Center, which then matches each family to a community sponsor.  For Thanksgiving, hundreds of community residents, groups and businesses provided their matched family with a cooked or uncooked meal.  The cooked meals were purchased from grocery stores and restaurants or prepared by an accredited kitchen of a school or congregation, for example. 

Typical uncooked meals included, at a minimum, meat, two vegetables, a starch, bread, a dessert and a beverage. Sponsors delivered meals -- some of which also included stuffing, rice and cranberry sauce— to families before Thanksgiving Day,

We at DSS are so grateful for the more than 100 sponsors and volunteers who stepped up to make sure that Thanksgiving was a time for celebration for everyone in our community.  Thanks to them, 573 families were sponsored during Thanksgiving 2013, for a total of 1,741 people.  

Special thanks to Parker and Otis, a local restaurant that prepared meals for 60 people;  World Overcomers Christian Church, which sponsored more than 300 people; and BP, which provided five vans and volunteer drivers to deliver meals to families. 

We are also appreciative of the commitment of all of the sponsors including: the newspaper you are reading -- The Herald-Sun, the Durham Merchants Association Charitable Foundation, SunTrust Foundation and Triangle United Way.

December also found community members helping those in need.  Durham County Department of Social Services and the Volunteer Center of Durham collaborated on Share Your Christmas, as they have since 1976.  Through this program, community members act as Santa’s elves, helping to make wishes come true. DSS social workers provided the Volunteer Center with the names and wish lists for families in need.  In December 2013, 1,105 families were sponsored, a total of 3,134 people.

Wish lists that requested such basic items as toilet paper or diapers reinforced the extent of need in our community.  Clothing is an often-requested item as are dolls, bicycles and skateboards -- the basics for a happy childhood.  

The gratitude of the sponsored families is profound; tears and blessings were often seen and heard when gifts were delivered.  We heard clients saying things like, “I was worried that my children wouldn’t have anything.”  One mom said that she didn’t want to receive a gift and only wanted something for her children. But her sponsor was persistent and finally got the mom to say that the one thing she wanted -- but thought was too expensive -- was a table and chairs because her family had never eaten a meal seated together.  Thanks to an eighth-grade class at Durham Academy who saved up and bought a table and chairs, plates and placemats, that family now has a place to share meals.

This program couldn’t happen without the 320 sponsors; the nearly 100 volunteers who gave their time; Northgate Mall, which donated Distribution Center space where presents were delivered and picked up; and The Herald-Sun newspaper, which provided media coverage for the program and recognition of the sponsors.  

Family Fare is a great corporate sponsor, providing volunteer shoppers who purchased gifts for families who weren’t sponsored. Other wonderful corporate sponsors included BP, the Durham Merchants Association Charitable Foundation, SunTrust Foundation and Triangle United Way.

Durham DSS thanks the generous donors and volunteers in our community who helped ensure that the joy of the holidays was spread throughout Durham.

Michael A. Becketts is the director of Durham County Department of Social Services.