Help for the Holidays

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

The holiday oil slick is upon us. It's the time of year when we feel like we hit an oil slick on Halloween, then slide out of control through Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's.

The holidays are busy times, but they don't equal good tidings, cheer and warm glows for everyone. For many families who already are struggling, it can be a stressful and heartbreaking time.

The struggle is real, and widespread. Half of Ohioans are living paycheck to paycheck, and one in three are one unplanned crisis - think car repair, health problem or lost job - away from falling into poverty.

According to the Ohio Development Services Agency's most recent poverty report, 43 percent of Ohio children qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Ohio ranks third in the nation for the most children in families with "very low food security," which means a lot of missed meals and empty stomachs, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

What do all these statistics mean? They translate into struggle, and at no time is a family's hardship more poignant than during holidays meant to celebrate plenty. Plenty of food. Plenty of gifts. Plenty of cheer. But not for everyone.

If your family, or a family you know, needs a hand this holiday season, don't lose hope. There are numerous resources available, including nonprofits that put a meal on the table, free stores and church groups that try to put at least one toy under the tree.

Here's a sampling of central Ohio organizations that may be able to help. Bear in mind each has its own eligibility requirements and application deadlines. And need is great. Programs fill fast because, frankly, many of our friends and neighbors need help, even if they appear to be doing just fine on the outside.

If you are hungry, reach out to your local food pantry. The Mid-Ohio Foodbank has a map of them at

Those red kettles aren't just for show. The Salvation Army provides Christmas dinners, clothes and toys for families in need, and has an army of volunteers who deliver gifts to nursing home residents and host holiday meals at shelters. Last year, its Christmas Cheer program served nearly 8,000 central Ohio families. To register, call 614-221-6561, ext. 600, or go to

If there isn't enough money for a gift for children or the elderly this year, check with your church to see if there's a giving tree or a holiday program. For instance, Broad Street United Methodist Church's Bethlehem on Broad provides hot Christmas meals, food baskets, toys and clothing to nearly 2,500 people. Call 614-221-4571.

The United Methodist Free Store, 946 Parsons Ave., Columbus, has a Christmas program that distributes toys and clothes to member families. Last year, the group distributed about $50,000 worth of items in the 43205, 43206 and 43207 ZIP codes.

Neighborhood Services Inc., 1950 N. Fourth St., Columbus, distributes Thanksgiving and Easter meals, as well as a Christmas gift for children, to families in the 43201, 43202, 43210 and 43211 ZIP codes. Registration ends Nov. 3. Call 614-297-0592.

Firefighters 4 Kids provides toys for children under age 14. For registration information, go to

If your family is blessed enough that you don't need such services, consider donating, even if there's only a little bit of time or money to spare. These and other charities are busy doing good work at this time of year, and another donor's support can spread the cheer further.

Those who'd like to donate might also consider the Homeless Families Foundation. The organization collects toys, gift cards and clothing to distribute to the families served by its shelters and programs, via its annual Christmas store. Or, Franklin County Children Services brightens the holidays for children in foster care via its Holiday Wish program.

Your donation could make the holidays a little brighter for your neighbors.

-Denise Trowbridge is a self-professed money geek who writes about personal finance, banking and insurance for The Columbus Dispatch, and