Images of holiday cheer, family feasts and wrapped gifts are everywhere this time of year.
But for many in South Sound, holiday wishes are for a warm coat, help with the rent, new socks and maybe enough extra for a toy for the kids.
In today’s paper is The Olympian’s annual Light of Hope list, where South Sound agencies share requests to help their clients during the holidays.
The help, any time of year, is life-changing, said Lucy Santiago, who went to the local SafePlace domestic violence shelter in 2005 with her infant son and 4-year-old daughter.
“When I got here, basically I didn’t know anything,” Santiago says. “I didn’t speak English. There were Spanish-speaker advocates here, helping me a lot, with translations and my rights.”
SafePlace helped Santiago rebuild her life.
“It was so impressive,” she recalls. “They put me into a safe place to stay. I started to go to school, got a part time job, volunteered.”
Today she works as the community services manager for SafePlace and owns a three-bedroom home in Lacey for her and her children.
Individual circumstances vary widely, said Kelly Patton, development director for SafePlace.
“One of the biggest things people can do at this time of year is support our client-assistance fund. The flexible funding goes directly to clients and addresses whatever they’re needing support around. Two big ones are transportation needs — gas cards, bus passes. We love when people donate gift cards for gas and groceries,” Patton said.
The cold weather has increased demands at Community Youth Services, which runs Rosie’s Place, a drop-in center for homeless youth.
“We’re seeing as many as 65 youth a day,” development director Lynsi Polanco said. “Our overnight shelter has 15 beds. It’s full every night. We have to turn people away.”
CYS needs gift cards of any sort, hygiene items and cash donations.
“We rely on government funding, and there’s not a lot of wiggle room. Extra funds from the community allow us to help in ways we can’t with a grant,” Polanco said.
Phil Prietto, pastor of City Gates Ministry, said that his church works with families in hardship situations who are living in poverty.
“We help them with tangible items to level out their circumstances,” he said. For example, City Gates is asking donations for low-income grandparents raising three teenagers. The family needs clothes for everyone.
A home is the greatest gift of all, and that is the mission of SideWalk.
“We’ve been seeing a record number going through the door, up to 50 a day,” said development director Anna Robinson.
Most clients need help with first and last month’s rent and deposits. The average assistance is $1,200 per person, Robinson said.
Monetary donations are the most flexible, but the group also appreciates donations of snacks, cleaning products and office supplies to help offset its costs.
Santiago explained how she felt after getting the help she needed.
“It’s not only those benefits, but the empowerment,” she said. “You are the one who makes the decision, you are the one who decides to be where you are right now. It’s all about empowerment.”