Cuyahoga Falls Good Neighbors helps Santa arrive

By ellin walsh | REPORTER Published:

Cuyahoga Falls -- From single parents to the jobless or downsized -- people worried they won't be able to provide much on the table, let alone under the tree -- the Cuyahoga Falls unit of Good Neighbors personifies the Christmas spirit.

Good Neighbors has served families in need for decades. During the holiday season, the organization's Christmas Drive allows those who qualify for Good Neighbors' services an appointment to pick out gifts and clothing for their family. Good Neighbors also provides food. The Cuyahoga Falls unit serves more than 800 families representing more than 2,000 people; its clients live in Cuyahoga Falls, Stow, Munroe Falls, Silver Lake, Hudson and Peninsula.

The Christmas Drive was staged last week at the Faber Foundation, 1872 Front St. In these challenging economic times, Good Neighbors Chairperson Kim Gaug has said it is increasingly harder for the organization to meet the need. During a conversation in the crowded waiting area, one woman confided it was her second time shopping at the Christmas Drive.

"This year is hard -- last year was real hard, too," the woman in her late 30s said. Between jobs after doing landscaping for a long time, the woman said she recently earned her GED to make herself more marketable in hopes of landing a full-time job; her job search hasn't been fruitful yet, though, she said, and her husband is laid off. When you're struggling to afford basic necessities, she said, Christmas presents are a luxury. As she waited to shop for her 11-year-old and a 13-year-old, the woman confided, "Last year's Christmas was pretty bad -- the kids didn't get much at all --and what they did get wasn't what they asked for. The kids were disappointed but they got over it pretty quick, but my husband was another story -- he cried at what he couldn't give his kids."

Another woman, on oxygen for her emphysema, said she was hoping to find a gift for her husband and son. While she and her husband both receive Social Security benefits, "It's hard to get by," the woman admitted. The retired nurse's aide qualifies for $16 a month in food stamps and said it is Good Neighbors that fills her cupboards. While she sacrificed all year to set aside a little money for Christmas, the woman said she recently learned she's been the victim of online identity theft. "So what little bit I did have for Christmas is gone," she said. Thankfully, the woman said, Good Neighbors usually has a big selection of coats, hats and gloves to choose from as gifts.

For another woman, last week marked the fifth time she's turned to Good Neighbors for Christmas assistance. "You can grow up in middle class America," she said, "and your husband can be unfaithful and leave and then you're a single parent, working two or three jobs and sometimes your body can't handle it."

The woman said she and her son live in a very poor neighborhood, which is home to many people who are down on their luck. Saying she's raised her son to put Christ first and to know gifts aren't the reason for Christmas, the woman said the teen isn't expecting anything on Dec. 25, but she hoped to surprise him with something, thanks to Good Neighbors.

The frail woman recalled, "I remember, about three years ago, one of the volunteers very compassionately said, 'I hope things improve for you from now on,' and I thought, 'Of course they will,'" she said. "But they didn't. My health just kept getting worse and worse."

However, the woman said she realizes there are others "hurting far worse than me." Blanketed by love from her church family, the woman said, "I'm coming to realize this is where God's love is shown. Just look at the faces of these people here. I feel hope, not shame, coming here."

ewalsh@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-941INFO Box:

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