It’s the week before Christmas as I write this article, and the Tedford Housing administrative office is oddly quiet. The constant hustle and bustle of donors popping into the office to donate gifts to our Christmas store or drop off a check before the calendar turns to the next year has slowed.

We still have people coming into the office, of course. We count on these last-minute donors to fill in the gaps we inevitably find as the days inch closer to the Christmas holiday. But it’s quiet enough for me to stop and think about what the flurry of activity in November and December means for the people we serve and the community in which we serve them.

This year we sent 40 families to the Christmas Store (33 in the Brunswick store and seven in Lewiston). These families included 51 adults and 79 kids from our family shelter, supportive housing and outreach efforts. We partnered with Pathway Vineyard Church so that our families could “shop,” at no cost to them, for gifts. We’ve found this to be the preferred way to celebrate the season, over the traditional “adopt a family in need” model.

The store, and the wonderful volunteers from Pathway Vineyard who run it, bring a certain amount of dignity to the process that can often get lost in the desire to provide for a family. Our families, and those from other organizations, can pick out items for themselves and their kids. The kids get to find items for their parents. There’s gift wrapping available and just a fun, festive atmosphere. We get great feedback from the experience.

We can’t forget the single adults we serve. I will admit to waking up in the middle of the night worrying that I might miss someone on Christmas day, though I know it all comes together year after year. While many people focus on the kids and families in our mix, we also had 48 individuals to support this holiday season. That number includes 12 men and four women in our emergency shelter, 23 individuals in our supportive housing and nine stability clients who have moved into permanent housing in the past year. This year, we were able to set aside fluffy new towels, warm socks, hats, mittens and other goodies, including a wonderful donation of Wilbur’s chocolates for our singles. Chocolates my 10-year-old son got to place in all 48 bags before going to school on Monday’s snowy delay. He knows the snow doesn’t delay mom’s work.

The Rotary Club of Brunswick, led by the amazing efforts of Patty Biggs, is handling the teens we serve in our Merrymeeting Project for homeless youth. Donations specifically for our Christmas efforts from companies and churches fill in any blanks that come up.

I have a stack of notes and copied in-kind donation receipts piled on my desk, an attempt to keep track of the generous neighbors who walked through our doors with gifts. I try to hand write thank you notes to everyone who donates and leaves their name with us. A quick counts tells me I have about 60 notes to write. These notes are going to generous schools, companies, churches, book clubs and individuals, including kids who used their own money to purchase gifts or who encouraged their families to donate from our wish list. I love this time of year because I get to witness so many selfless acts of kindness in my very own office.

While we prepare to make the holiday a festive one for the people we serve, we continue with our day to day work. We are thankful for our case managers and shelter staff who are on the frontlines creating those pathways from homelessness to home. Our nine Warm Thy Neighbor volunteers have ordered emergency fuel for 48 households that comprised of 85 people between Nov. 7 and Dec. 15. Our friends at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church are preparing to host the annual Homeless Memorial Service on the longest night of the year, Dec. 21, so that we may honor those in the homeless community who have passed in 2018. Though the administrative office may quiet in the days before Christmas, the need for our programs and services does not.

People tend to be surprised when we share the numbers of people Tedford serves throughout the year. A Giving Voice article published back in July illustrated that we were serving 161 people on one given day. It is with the support of our donors and kind neighbors that we are able to continue to treat our guests, tenants and clients with dignity and help guide them from whatever lead them to homelessness (or on the brink of homelessness) to self-sufficiency. Many who receive help from Tedford during the holidays, or at any time of the year, make it a point to give back when they are able to in the future.

As we head into that last rush right before the Christmas holiday, don’t forget our neighbors in need. While their situation is most likely temporary, small acts of kindness can go a long way.

Jennifer Iacovelli is the director of Development for Tedford Housing and author of “Simple Giving: Easy Ways to Give Every Day.”  Giving Voice is a weekly collaboration among four local non-profit service agencies to share information and stories about their work in the community

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