Kelly (not her real name) is the sole provider for her four children. One of her kids is in kindergarten, another in second grade. The two older ones attend middle school. The children’s father left the state, leaving behind nothing in the way of support, but Kelly does her best as a single mom to provide everything her children need.

She works at a local fast food restaurant where she’s been employed for several years, but her pay is low — just a bit above minimum wage. While her paycheck covers the family’s basic living expenses, there is nothing left for her to use on holiday spending. That is why every year for the past four years Kelly has been approved for assistance with Christmas Clearinghouse, a program organized by Interfaith Ministries and run with help by volunteers from area churches.

 “The help Kelly receives is not life changing,” said Julie Edwards, co-director of the agency’s Meals on Wheels program. “It just means she’ll have a little extra spending money to make the holidays special.”

That’s what a young couple — newly arrived in this area — is hoping will happen for their little family. Parents to toddler twins, they relocated from the North in hopes of a better life and are currently looking for jobs. “They seemed a little embarrassed asking for help,” Julie said. “But we can do our part to make sure Christmas in their new home will be a happy one.”

Julie shares another situation that is becoming more commonplace each year: grandparents taking over the care of their grandchildren due to situations such as the scourge of drug addiction. “It creates financial burdens that grandma and grandpa didn’t account for when planning their retirement,” she says.

One such example: a 64-year old grandmother who has taken custody of her two elementary-age grandchildren while their parents are in rehab. “Everyone hopes the parents will be able to take over again,” said Julie. “But in the meantime, the grandmother has been approved for assistance so that the children will have a merry Christmas.”

Once a family has been approved for assistance, spending money is provided in the form of Walmart gift cards.

“The recipients do their own shopping, but the cards can only be used to purchase toys, clothing or groceries,” Julie said. “We let the parents, or grandparents, decide which of those three, because they know what their family needs to make their Christmas special.”

Christmas Clearinghouse was established in 1962 as a way to find and assist families in need with holiday gift-giving and meal preparation.

A different church serves as the host church each year, enlisting volunteers from their own congregation as well as other houses of worship. They include Anniston First United Methodist, Grace Episcopal, Sacred Heart Catholic, Parker Memorial Baptist, First Presbyterian, Haven United Methodist and Temple Beth El.

Christmas Clearinghouse is dependent on financial contributions from people in the Calhoun County community. If you, your family or your business would like to help, no matter the amount, large or small, send a donation made payable to Interfaith Ministries to Christmas Clearinghouse, Box 1444, Anniston, AL 36202.

Donna Barton’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at