What began as an effort to spread seasonal Christmas spirit for Oklahomans has evolved into an initiative to embrace that same spirit year-round.
For nonprofit organization Christmas Connection, work is underway to aid low-income families with this year's holiday campaign, but that doesn't stop it from being involved in several community efforts.
Executive Director Shelley Dutton recently discussed what Santa's elves have been up to all year, and how you can help.
Q. What is the history behind Christmas Connection?
A. We started as a seasonal charity, and this will be our 32nd year to do Christmas for low-income families. We work with a network of partner agencies. They actually screen the clients and determine their needs. Based on that, they refer them to us for our Christmas program, and we've expanded now and have other programs as well.
Q. How does the Christmas program work?
A. We've been year-round now for almost 10 years, where we have different programs at other times of the year, but for Christmas we actually have a store. We're located on the south side of Oklahoma City. We have all the clothing departments, shoes, videos, a toy department, a catchall for a variety of things, and as the families come through, they're paired with a personal shopper. They'll take them through the store, then they get to personally select items to their taste and size. We expect right at 1,000 families this year.
Q. What are your goals with the program, and whom do you help?
A. Our program is really based on treating those in need with dignity and respect by allowing them to personally choose those items. It really means a lot to the families. Our clients are mostly the working poor; they have a job and a place to live, but they just don't make enough money to support a family of five, so new shoes or a coat for their child who has outgrown theirs, they just don't have those resources. We're rolling in about 300 families from the May tornadoes that are obviously going to need help this Christmas.
Q. Beyond the Christmas store, your organization has several other initiatives. What are they?
A. The same partner agencies that refer families for Christmas were coming back to us at other times in the year saying “we have kids in school that just need school clothes or shoes or jackets for cold weather,” and because we were getting donations from the public, we were able to kind of fill in the gaps for that. This year, Oklahoma City schools adopted a districtwide uniform policy. We have 97 schools sending us students, and it's a challenge for us to try to meet the need. The students have a short grace period with the schools. Then they either put them in detention or send them home, so our goal is to try to avoid that and keep the kids in the classroom by providing something as basic as a uniform.