No one should go hungry this holiday season.
While there are many families on the Kenai Peninsula who may not be able to afford a fine Christmas spread or toys for their children, five area agencies, with the help of many others, are working hard to share the holiday spirit.
Now in its fourth year, Sharing the Spirit is a cooperative effort of the Bridges Community Network, the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank, The Salvation Army, the United Way and the Women's Resource and Crisis Center.
They, in turn, are getting help from area businesses, other social service agencies and two seniors from Soldotna High School.
The program came about from the desire of the agencies to serve all needy people fairly.
"We're trying to be equitable in giving to the people in our community who are in need," said Bridges board president Jane Stein, who also is a Soldotna City Council member.
She said in the past there have been some unscrupulous people who have gone from agency to agency during the holiday season seeking multiple food baskets.
"There are people who play the game, and they do it well. They know where to go and how to get stuff," Stein said. "It's sad, but it does happen, and we're well aware of it.
"I'm sure there are duplications that we can't get away from, but we're working hard to help everybody fairly."
In the past, she said, some people have received up to five holiday boxes, which meant some deserving people did not get any.
She said with Bridges and United Way taking care of the logistics of providing a central clearinghouse for holiday food and toys, agencies like WRCC, the Food Bank and The Salvation Army can concentrate on taking care of the day-to-day nutritional and emotional needs of their clients.
Last Christmas season, Sharing the Spirit supplied 1,100 people in 350 families with baskets of food, toys and clothing. This year, Stein said they are planning to serve 400 families.
The families will receive what Stein calls a "very substantial" box of food, which she said should last two weeks.
"This is possible because we ask people to donate canned goods and nonperishables," she said. "To that, we add vegetables, turkey and potatoes."
Sharing the Spirit also is soliciting new, unwrapped toys for inclusion in the packages, as well as clean new or used winter clothing. Both should be suitable for children up to 16 years old.
Two 17-year-olds at SoHi, Leisl Sizemore and Kara Merrill, are mobilizing students at their school to help out with their portion of the program called Sharing the Spirit Star Style, a reference to their school emblem, the star.
"We just finished our winter clothing drive, and next we're going to concentrate on toys," Sizemore said.
The two teens already organized a successful Thanksgiving canned food drive competition between their school and cross-town rival Skyview High School. Skyview students compiled 5,000 canned goods, while SoHi hauled in 4,000, Sizemore said.
She said the pair are considering a Christmas canned food drive and will make a decision on it this week.
Clothing collected will be cleaned and made available to families coming to pick up their Sharing the Spirit food boxes in mid-December.
"With the clothes, if people need them, they can take them," Sizemore said.
The toys will be wrapped and placed in the boxes.
Stein said when people fill out applications for food boxes through any of the five participating agencies, they should put down the age and gender of their children so toys can be matched to them. She also said the Toys for Tots program will participate in this year's toy drive through Sharing the Spirit.
The Kenai Peninsula Food Bank also will supply foodstuffs to the boxes. Executive director Sandy Dallmann said businesses, organizations and individuals all have been generous with donations this season.
"It impresses me and takes me off guard sometime how generous people in this community are," Dallmann said.
Dallmann said the Thanksgiving season went well for the food bank, with planned and last-minute donations from many people contributing to a successful effort.
During the next month, the food bank is open regular hours -- from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for its soup kitchen, and 1 to 4 p.m. for people seeking food to bring home.
The food bank and its soup kitchen will be closed Christmas Day but open the rest of that week.
Meanwhile, Sharing the Spirit is seeking volunteers to help sort the food and gifts Dec. 13 through 15 and to wrap presents and box the items Dec. 16. The volunteers will work in the vacant half of the Don Jose's building in Kenai, and organizers anticipate having gift boxes ready by Dec. 18.
Sizemore said she and Merrill have stockpiled about 200 boxes at the food bank for holding the goods, but Stein said they are still looking for more.
To volunteer, make a donation or sign up for a food and gift box, call Bridges Community Network at 260-3800, or any of the other agencies involved in Sharing the Spirit.
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