Local charities are coming together this holiday season to form the Sleigh Bell Network with the common goal of making Christmas brighter for needy families in York County.
Led by the United Way of York County, the five organizations plan to provide toys and food to all eligible families through community donations. The charities are:
Empty Stocking Fund, sponsored by The Herald
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Second Harvest Food Bank
Toys for Happiness, sponsored by WRHI Radio
Toys for Tots, sponsored by the Olde English Leathernecks, a detachment of the Marine Corps League
"We become stronger and more efficient by working together," said Debbie Hayworth, president and chief professional officer of the United Way of York County. "The task is too great for any single organization."
While some of the organizations operate in other counties, their efforts through the Sleigh Bell Network will go toward helping York County families.
Last year, 3,843 children received toys and food through the organizations, with no eligible families turned away for lack of donations.
Early registration numbers indicate there is a greater need this year, Hayworth said. At one center, 150 families asked for holiday assistance on the first day of sign-ups - up from 33 in 2009.
"We hope that when individuals are doing their Christmas shopping for their loved ones, they also buy a toy for someone in need," Hayworth said. "I personally have all the sweaters, coaster sets and candles I need.
"Instead of exchanging gifts, make a donation to the organization of your choice in the Sleigh Bell Network. When you help one, you help us all."
Knowing how many families are struggling, the community has responded, and donations to Toys for Happiness are up this year, organizers said.
"People are responding earlier and better in 2010, but the demand is bigger than it's ever been," said Allan Miller, a managing partner and co-owner of Our Three Sons Broadcasting, parent company of WRHI Radio, which has sponsored the holiday assistance program for 25 years.
"The biggest reason to give is, it stays right here in York County."
There are no administrative charges for Toys for Happiness - 100 percent goes to helping others, Miller said. If $10 is donated, $10 will go toward making Christmas happier for a local child.
Last year was the first that those receiving toys also received a box of food. Empty Stocking Fund, in its 27th year, earmarked part of its contributions to buy food for 2,000 families.
"The children needed food in addition to Barbies and footballs," Hayworth said. "By providing food, we feel like Christmas morning will be a wonderful time not clouded by hunger."
Anticipating great need, Second Harvest Food Bank plans to order and pack more boxes this year, executive director Kay Carter said. Among the contents are peaches, pinto beans, pineapple, peanut butter, instant oatmeal, tomato soup and graham crackers.
"We're thrilled to be helping out and thrilled to be part of the Sleigh Bell Network," Carter said. "The need is certainly as great as last year, if not greater."
Toys for Tots has 61 toy drop-off locations throughout York County, said Wayne Broach, a former Marine who coordinates the organization in York County.
"The spirit of Christmas is about giving, not about receiving," he said. "Each toy that is given stays here in York County and helps the children of York County."
More than 7,000 toys were collected last year. Toys for Tots organizers are excited to join the Sleigh Bell Network.
"We can reach so many more children," Broach said. "We don't have duplication of services. When we all combine our work together, we are more efficient and can serve more children and families."
The United Way manages the Sleigh Bell Network database to ensure families don't double-dip or duplicate services among organizations. Toys and food boxes are shared across organizations so recipients' wishes are granted.
"We want to funnel the funds where they are most needed," said Debbie Abels, president and publisher of The Herald. "We're still different organizations, but we're all working for the same goal."
Want to help?
Here are the organizations in the Sleigh Bell Network and how you can help them:
Toys for Happiness
WRHI's Toys for Happiness, celebrating its 25th anniversary, receives donations from local businesses, organizations, churches and community events such as ChristmasVille to provide thousands of toys for needy children up to age 14.
Donate a new toy at:
United Way of York County, 226 Northpark Drive, Suite 100, Rock Hill
All York County YMCA branches in Clover, Fort Mill, Rock Hill and York
Online at unitedwayofyc.org; click on the Toys for Happiness tab on the homepage
Mail checks (with "Toys for Happiness" in the memo line) to United Way of York County, P.O. Box 925, Rock Hill, S.C., 29731
Drop off checks at the United Way office, 226 Northpark Drive, Suite 100, Rock Hill
Empty Stocking Fund
The Herald's Empty Stocking Fund was established 27 years ago to help residents of York, Chester and Lancaster counties. The address of the donor determines where the contribution is funneled, unless noted otherwise.
Monetary donations are collected and given to the United Way to purchase food boxes and toys for eligible families.
Donations can be:
Mailed to P.O. Box 10921, Rock Hill, S.C. 29731
Dropped off at The Herald, 132 W. Main St., Rock Hill
Checks should be made out to Empty Stocking Fund, c/o United Way of York County. Contributors can choose to have their names published in The Herald.
Second Harvest Food Bank
Second Harvest Food Bank - in conjunction with United Way of York County and the Empty Stocking Fund - used its purchasing power last year to help provide food boxes to 2,000 families to reduce the impact of hunger on holiday joy and happy memories.
This year, they're packing up 2,100 food boxes.
Toys for Tots
Toys for Tots - handled locally by the Olde English Leathernecks, a detachment of the Marine Corps League - collects new, unwrapped toys and donations so needy children can experience the joy of Christmas.
Numerous toy drop-offs are located throughout the county, including:
U.S. Post Offices on Black Street, Ebenezer Road and Cherry Road in Rock Hill
Marine Corps recruiting office, Galleria mall, Rock Hill
For more information, go to rock-hill-sc.toysfortots.org.
The Salvation Army's Angel Tree provides the opportunity to "adopt" an Angel to purchase toys and clothes for individual children.
Through Dec. 10, angels can be adopted and shopped for at jcp.com/angel. Also, look for Salvation Army red kettles at local retailers.