Pittsburgh blogs such as I Heart PGH, Ms. Mon's Salon, Secret Agent L, That's Church and Two Political Junkies have been writing up a storm about this year's Community Human Services Corp. (CHS) holiday gift drive; this trend might have something to do with its point-person, Sue Kerr.
Even still, due to great local demand for these kinds of services, its goals are to sponsor over 500 pre-identified families and to raise upwards of $10,000 for supportive holiday gifts on top of that. There is much unmet need remaining to be filled over the coming weeks.
CHS is a private non-profit that has been based out of Oakland for over 40 years. It was originally founded to service the working-class community in Oakland, and did so through operating a community center and holding Bingo fundraisers. Since then, CHS has expanded and shifted its emphasis to providing mental health services and mental health residential programs.
The organization serves over 1,500 clients per year. It receives many of its referrals from Allegheny County, and many more through contacts established during "street-based" work.
This is the fourth year of the CHS gift drive; there are many subprograms by which one can get involved. Kerr is primarily responsible for the "Adopt a Family" program, through which qualified recipients "usually get three wishes". The gift items wished for tend towards the extremely useful and practical, such as gloves, blankets and everyday household needs. In addition the program recommends practical, family-friendly gift cards in $25 denominations. Gift cards have the added benefit of allowing recipients a shopping trip, chaperoned or otherwise, with which they are afforded the dignity of satisfying their own needs.
Kerr emphasizes that the gift card program is a particularly good plug-in for corporate donors. Although it is known as "Adopt a Family", do not expect a meet and greet with the end-users of your gifts or pictures suitable for framing; confidentially for health services recipients rules all. However you might expect a thank-you note and will certainly receive thank-yous and stories from staff.
Cash remains king, so various fund drives are also taking place, and 100% of the proceeds of these go to recipients. "Every penny that goes in, goes out." Contact CHS directly or read some of the blogs linked to above to learn of these events. Some of these funds will likely be directed toward the street-based aspect of the gift drive; gifts as socks, gloves or deodorant for the homeless. Santa Claus has been known to quietly take part in this aspect of the project.
Consumers of CHS services suffer through a broad variety of conditions and situations, some of which are frequently overlooked by society or make people uncomfortable. Kerr states that the simple awareness that others care enough to provide these folks with a holiday present is helpful in itself, and the practical nature of the gifts CHS gathers provides support. "If you want people to make good choices," she says, "you need to provide good supports."