ROBERT PIERCE • Leader & Times
The Liberal Area Coalition for Families is in the giving spirit any time of year, and the agency has already done a few projects this holiday season.
Last month for Thanksgiving, coalition members delivered baskets to many families in the community, and LACF’s Julie Foster said from sponsors to volunteers and getting help from Dillon’s to complete what she called a very large order, everything went great.
“I don’t think I could’ve asked for it to have gone any better than it did,” she said. “I’m really proud of our team and thankful for everybody who helped in one way or another. We were able to help 174 families, more than 676 household members.”
Foster said the Thanksgiving drive likewise saw around 70 agency referrals.
“That went anywhere from ResCare, Southwest Guidance Center, Kansas Children’s Service League, USD 480, St. Francis, First Baptist Church and South Church of God,” she said. “It was great. That’s all I can truly say. It was a really nice day.”
Now after an unexpected donation from National Beef, LACF will distribute Christmas dinner boxes this coming Friday. Registrations were taken last Monday at First Baptist Church, and Foster said doing such an event normally takes a lot of planning and is a very costly distribution.
“Thanks to National Beef, we were able to make this possible,” she said.
Holiday food programs have been done for a few years now with the coalition, and Foster said agency officials try to do something different with each passing event.
“Something we did last year may not have worked this year, and we try to always see where we can improve,” she said.
During the Thanksgiving drive, Foster said LACF leaders noticed many people were not able to receive a basket.
“Even though we wish we could help every single person in Liberal, it’s just impossible,” she said. “We’re a non-profit agency, and we depend on donations, it’s just not possible to help every single person.”
So Foster said coalition leaders decided to make Christmas boxes for those who did not receive a Thanksgiving basket.
“If you received a Thanksgiving basket, will you allow somebody else to meet their needs and do something for the holidays?” she said.
Foster said Monday’s registration turned out great, and she saw a lot of new faces.
“We realize our community has a lot of needs,” she said. “There’s COVID still happening. Holidays are stressful. Holidays are a financial burden on a lot of families, and we want to be able to help as many people as we can without having the same group. To be able to do that, to be able to expand our resources and make the most of our resources, we ask that if you were able to get some sort of assistance during Thanksgiving, you allow another family to get assistance during Christmas season. It went good.”
Foster said the need in Liberal goes beyond the 170 families helped with the Thanksgiving distribution, and LACF members saw the need to help those not helped with that drive.
“It was something we needed to try,” she said. “It doesn’t mean we’ll do that every single year, but to make the most out of our resources, that’s something we felt was appropriate. I think it was a good decision, and I think it went well. I hope people are happy who weren’t able to get on the list last month, but now, they’re able to do so.”
During registration, USD 480 social worker Susana Hernandez was also on hand with community resource information and applications for the Toys for Tots program.
“Not only were families able to come register, but they were able to come and receive community resource information,” Foster said.
Foster said many times, community resource coordinators can spread word about what agencies are doing, but having Hernandez on hand to explain those matters one on one was more helpful.
“She explained where you can go get food assistance and where you can go get mental health assistance, where you can go get COVID testing or where you can go get COVID vaccines,” she said. “She also assisted with the process of applying for Toys for Tots. If you had not yet received any assistance for your children, you were able to look through all of it in one location.”
Foster said in this way, the registration was a great convenience for those who came.
“Families a lot of times are sent here and there for assistance, and to just go to one location and be able to get all the information in one spot and be given that information in your own language as well, it was great,” she said.
Foster thanked everyone involved with making both the Thanksgiving and Christmas events possible, saying without the help, it would not have been possible.
“Our biggest hurdle is the finances,” she said. “We are a non-profit organization. We don’t make profit off with doing any of what we do. We are dependent on donations, and although we had some donations made for Christmas, it was not going to be as big of an amount as we needed.”
The Christmas box project was able to be put together quickly, Foster said, because of the National Beef donation.
“Within a couple of hours of them announcing this donation to us, we had to kick it in gear and get things ordered, get a list going of what we were going to get, get with Dillon’s and making sure they were going to be able to get such a large amount of items in such a short time,” she said. “I had planned for Thanksgiving two months prior, and now, I was cut down to two weeks.”
Despite the rush for planning the event, Foster said everything was very organized.
“For me, it was just the timing. I felt the pressure a little bit,” she said. “Typically, we have about two months to do those, and now we were down to two weeks. We’re thankful we’re in a position to say we have the resources and we can do it.”
Foster said putting a project together like the Christmas boxes so quickly primarily took manpower and hours of commitment from the LACF team.
“All of our team is very willing to always help, and they jump right in to situations like this,” she said. “I think that’s what makes us so strong of an agency. Each of us has something to provide, and we all work really well together.”
LACF likewise had angel trees for both the young and old, and through that project and the Christmas and Thanksgiving meals, Foster said the agency was able to make a difference this holiday season.
“After the holiday season is over, we’re going to be able sit back and look at how much our event, our distribution and our assistance has helped,” she said. “I can truly say it’s going to be more than 1,000 people we’ve been able to help this holiday season, and that’s amazing. I think over the years, we improve. We help more people. We have more resources. We have more volunteers.”
Foster said as the calendar moves into 2022, coalition members will reflect on what they did this year and what they can improve to make future events even more successful.
“Our numbers just continue to grow,” she said. “I think that helps when it comes to donors and sponsors. They see not only the work, the quality, the quantity we’re able to provide, how many people we’re able to help. That’s why it’s so important to be able to report those numbers. We want to be able to show how much of our resources are being put into the community.”
Foster said this holiday season has proven to be a special one for LACF and at the same time hard, but rewarding.
“We do everything we do for the community because we truly are invested in our community, and we all love our jobs,” she said. “We love what we do. We’re here to meet the needs of our community. That’s our whole mission, and when we see any type of need, we want to be able as an agency meet it.”
Foster said the holidays bring a warm and cheerful spirit to homes, but for some, the season is hard if they are already struggling to make ends meet or put food on the table.
“I think holidays add stress to families, and we want to make sure we step in and utilize our resources, utilize our team to make sure we can help those families,” she said.