Help Give Hope Wraps Up Christmas for 224 Ozarks Families

The vast floor space of the former Circuit City store in south Springfield transformed into a huge gift-wrapping operation Friday when volunteers for CFO agency partner Help Give Hope tackled piles of presents for families that might not otherwise have many Christmas gifts this year.

Founded by Springfield businessman Wade Palmer in 1984, Help Give Hope this year is serving 224 families in Springfield, Ozark, Rogersville and Fordland who were screened, cross-checked to avoid duplication with other human-services agencies, and interviewed about their needs.

The children in these families will each receive a set of clothing and some toys, games, or other items their parents requested for them, says Murray Beairsto, director of Help Give Hope. As a bonus, each child who would like a bicycle will receive one. Parents or guardians each receive one item, such as a piece of clothing, as well as a tub full of non-perishable food and some household supplies. But through the interview process, Help Give Hope finds out if the family needs other assistance like mattresses so each child has his or her own bed, a working refrigerator, or car repairs, kitchen items or a kitchen table and chairs set.

“We feel like everyone needs the chance to sit around the table and share a meal together,” Beairsto says. “Sometimes, it’s the only time they’ll be together all day.”

The agency is privately funded primarily through donations and a giant annual garage sale. It started as a holiday project, but now provides for emergency needs throughout the year. With support averaging about $800 per family, this year’s holiday project involves nearly $180,000 in donations.

“When the economy took its dive, we held our breath,” Beairsto says. “But our donations have only gone up. I think people like that it started as a very grass-roots mission of ‘we’re going to help families who need it’.”

Volunteers spent two days this week shopping for the gift items, primarily at Wal-Mart in Ozark, which supports the project by assembling the bikes for free and pre-ordering quantities of some items. Remaining items were purchased the next couple of day to get everything in place for Friday’s massive gift-wrapping operation before delivery and pick up begins.

Bruce Hollowell and his wife, Satch, have been volunteering for the Christmas project for 10 years and they say they wouldn’t miss it for the world.

“It’s great to help because everybody needs a push sometime,” Bruce Hollowell says. “We wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

First-time volunteers Heather Landwer and Marla Witthar were given time off from their jobs at ITI Financial Management to volunteer Friday and they said they enjoyed wrapping their piles of gifts.

“It’s good because you can see the progress as you go and you know you’re doing a good thing for this family,” Landwer said.