Undercover Elves

Volunteers at the Pregnancy Assistance Center sort through thousands of gifts prior to their delivery to hundreds of area families. On the far left is Fritzie Alferman, executive director, who started the Pregnancy Assistance Center’s Christmas program in Washington nearly 30 years ago. Many other area groups, churches and agencies also help provide Christmas gifts for those in need of assistance. Missourian Photo.

As Franklin County residents sit down to Christmas dinner and exchange gifts with family and friends, there are some area families who are happy, and humbled, that they can even celebrate at all.

The Missourian spoke to several families who received assistance through the Christmas programs provided by Loving Hearts Outreach or the Pregnancy Assistance Center.

To protect the families, privacy and the privacy of their children, last names have not been used. Some requested that their names not be used at all and The Missourian honored that request.

Fritzie Alferman, Pregnancy Assistance Center executive director, said she noticed this year that families were asking for practical items, like toilet paper and cleaning supplies.

Both programs focus on children, but also give gifts to parents if they are able.

Many Reasons

Although the reasons varied for needing a little extra help through the holiday season, almost all of the families said that without the help of others, they wouldn’t be able to have Christmas.

One mother of eight, including a new infant, said she would only be able to get her children candy or other items that could be purchased with food stamps.

“We wouldn’t have much of a Christmas at all,” she said. “With (the Pregnancy Assistance Center’s) help, I know I can focus on making sure there’s a roof over our head and they’ll provide for the kids for Christmas.”

The Pregnancy Assistance Center does ask each family why they are requesting help.

One single mother said that while she attends college full time to help improve her situation, she’s struggling to keep the electric on in her home. She has five children.

Another mom, Lynn, said that clothing provided by Loving Hearts are often brands that she couldn’t afford. For high school kids, the brand can make a big difference, she said.

“It’s hard when you can’t put something under the tree for your kids,” she said. “It’s very difficult.”

But Loving Hearts helps “put a big smile on everyone’s face,” she added.

One mom, who has received help from the Pregnancy Assistance Center on and off throughout the years, said she’s grateful she has never been turned away.

“I wish Fritzie (Alferman, PAC executive director) could be there Christmas morning to see (my kids) faces,” she said.

A grandmother, raising her grandson, said she was only expecting one or two things for her grandson.

“He’s such a good boy. I didn’t know how I was going to do anything for him for Christmas,” she said, adding she was surprised when she saw much more than two gifts arrive just in time for Christmas.

“I just started crying. I was so happy,” she said. “God is good. He has always blessed.”

Because the two live off her Social Security check, there’s no money left for Christmas, she said. Often, she has to rely on the help of the food pantry to get by. This is the first time she’s had help with Christmas gifts.

Like others, she expressed gratitude to the agencies and the people who donate.

“It’s a true blessing. It proves that there are some good people in the world,” she said.

Another mom said she is struggling to get by after taking in her sister’s children after she passed away. The family grew from three to five children.

Last year was her first year trying to provide Christmas on her own. Most of the gifts she bought last year were used, she said.

“I go to college full time and work part time, but that’s just not enough,” she said.

Luckily, Loving Hearts stepped in to help out, providing coats, hats gloves and scarves for each of her children. Through the Christmas program, she received necessities and toys.

“They even had a little bag for Mom,” she said.

Like others, this busy mom said she doesn’t have any family to help out.

“They can’t go elsewhere to get it. I’m everyone’s sole caretaker,” she said, adding she’s thankful the Loving Hearts staff doesn’t make her feel inferior just because she needs a little help.

A mom of three reiterated what nearly every mom said — that she can never repay the organization that helped her.

“I’m on disability and it barely pays my bills. I don’t know what I would do without them,” she said. “Thank you seems not enough for what they’ve done for me.”

She said her Christmas wish is that her children don’t know her struggles and they don’t have to worry about bills.

“I pray a lot that God will come through for (Loving Hearts),” she said. “I see the pantry empty. I only go when I need it, but at Christmas I always need it because it’s either pay bills or have Christmas.”

Enjoys Helping

Combined, the Pregnancy Assistance Center and Loving Hearts help hundreds of families and thousands of children in the Franklin County area this Christmas.

And though it’s tough to run the program, Alferman said she loves it.

“I just hope the dear Lord will give me many, many more years because I enjoy doing this and I’d like to have many more years,” she said.