The 15,000 square feet inside a building at Cross Creek Square was barren on a recent visit.
But signs of hope could be found everywhere in the Apalachee Parkway and Capital Circle location.
A small Christmas tree was placed on the edge of a table near the entrance. Boxes of toiletries were neatly packaged. Nearby sat a handful of portable heaters and fans.
New, unopened packages of blankets were placed on another table. Several shiny bicycles were parked against a wall.
Between Nov. 20 and Dec. 20, this site at 2990-2 Apalachee Parkway, next to the Leon County Supervisor of Elections Office, becomes full of life and goodwill as the drop-off for the annual Christmas Connection project hosted by Catholic Charities of Northwest Florida, Inc.
The Tallahassee Democrat once again is partnering with Catholic Charities by encouraging our community to step up and give to those among us who are in need.
Christmas Connection cases 2021: Day 1: Homelessness, illness, adoptions strain families
Christmas Connection was created in 1979, with the goal of helping 25 families in Tallahassee. It ended up serving over 100.
This year, Catholic Charities has 550 families from Gadsden, Franklin, Jefferson, Leon, Madison and Wakulla counties identified by social service organizations as needing special help this year. The first of 40 cases will begin running in the Tallahassee Democrat in our TLH section and on Tallahassee.com on Thanksgiving Day.
The personal details offer only a glimpse inside the struggle some of our neighbors find themselves:
► A family of three that has been homeless for two years and living in a motel.
Among the needs: Food, or Walmart gift cards for food; comforter; pots and pans; electric blanket.
► A 75-year-old woman experiencing undiagnosed medical conditions. Her spouse has recently been put on dialysis and is also on oxygen.
Among their needs: Blankets, nightgowns, fishing tackle.
► A family of 11 headed by a mother and father who adopted children and are the custodial parents to their grandchildren.
Needs run the gamut from household items, gift cards, sports equipment, and toys.
Case after case exemplifies challenges faced by households headed by single parents, couples, and grandparents responsible for multiple generations. They need help, from basic clothing to food items to household items, educational items – and toys for Christmas.
“I can tell you childrens’ learning toys is our biggest request,” said Lisa Harvey, a retired state employee who is Christmas Connection Coordinator for Catholic Charities of Northwest Florida.
The second most popular items are Barbie dolls and baby dolls, followed by arts and crafts supplies and remote-control toys. Of course, bicycles are in demand.
Meeting the requests is where you are needed. Last year, 68% of the 450 families were adopted, while requests from the remaining families were met by community donations.
The 550 families cover 2,134 individuals, who need help. Of those:
25% are children under 5.
25% are between ages 6 and 12.
15% are teenagers.
7% are senior citizens, or 65 and older.
The oldest person being supported this year is a 93-year-old woman who loves bingo, crocheting and “babysitting her two grand-dogs,” Harvey said.
“I’m extremely hopeful that people will be as generous as they have in the past,” Harvey said during a pre-opening interview. “Last year was a very good year despite the pandemic. We are comfortable and confident that we will be able to meet the needs of the 550 families that we are supporting.”
Contact Community Editor Byron Dobson at email@example.com or on Twitter @byrondobson.
How to help
Donate in person: Drop off donated items at the Christmas Connection warehouse at 2990-2 Apalachee Parkway, next to the Supervisor of Elections office. The warehouse is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, and 1-5 p.m. on Sundays. Days of operation are Nov. 20-23 and Nov. 28-Dec. 20. Deadline for donated items is Dec. 15. (Please do NOT drop off items at the Tallahassee Democrat.) Donations can also be dropped off at Morningstar Storage, 5600 Roanoke Trail, Tallahassee. Hours are 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday; 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday.
Wish List: Shop early and shop easy with the Christmas Connection Amazon wish list. You can view the wish list at the website TheChristmasConnection.org.
Blanket Day: Drop off new blankets and heaters from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 4 and Sunday, Dec. 5, 1-5 p.m. at the Apalachee Parkway location. A volunteer will help you unload your car.
Donate online or by mail: Make a monetary donation online at TheChristmasConnection.org or send a check to Christmas Connection, P.O. Box 20165, Tallahassee, FL 32316.
Adopt a family: Complete a brief request form on the website and a family in need will be assigned to you by the volunteer adoption coordinator. All families are referred to us from social service organizations in the Big Bend area.
Host a Christmas Connection collection drive or holiday party: Gather people from your office, school, church, sports team, family or friends and host a party or collection drive to benefit neighbors in need. You can sign up online on the website and then collect gift items, gift cards and/or monetary donations, which can be brought to the collection site during regular operating hours.
Volunteer: You can sign up on the website to donate your time and talents. Due to COVID, they are limiting how many people can volunteer at one time.
Most needed items this year: Bikes, gift cards, blankets, towels, teenage gifts, heaters (electric/space), housewares, diapers and nonperishable foods. All donations MUST be new.
This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: How you can change lives for a struggling local family this Christmas