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Christmas programs unsure what to expect in pandemic

News Photo by Crystal Nelson Operation Holiday coordinator and fundraiser Tammy Kish helps Hal Neiman set up the space where the holiday giving programs will be headquartered in the Thunder Bay Shopping Center.

ALPENA — Alpena-area holiday giving programs anticipate greater need in the community this year, although they are unsure of exactly what to expect during the coronavirus pandemic.

Operation Holidays, an annual service project of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 583 and the Associates of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 583, has operated in the community since 1991.

The two chapters help families in Alpena, Alcona, Montmorency, and Presque Isle counties and were able to provide Thanksgiving meals to about 940 families during its Feed a Family program last November and helped about 2,000 children receive Christmas gifts last December.

While Tammy Kish, program coordinator and fundraiser, believes the need in the community remains the same, she said she is not sure if they will see more families needing assistance because of pandemic-related layoffs. She is also unsure about what they would do if the state were to shut down again and whether community members will be able to donate as much as they have in past years.

“We’re going to need all the support we can get this year — the unknown is rough,” Kish said, adding that the community has never been through a pandemic during the holiday season before.

The Salvation Army’s Red Kettle Campaign is set to kick off on Nov. 11, but Maj. Prezza Morrison said the set up might look a little different this year.

Morrison said bell-ringers will wear masks this year, and will be positioned farther away from the Salvation Army’s famous red kettles, which will be sanitized frequently. The group will also offer a contactless way to donate: People can scan a code with their phones and make a donation online.

Morrison said the Salvation Army expects an increase in the number of people requiring services.

“Obviously, we’re expecting an increase in need, because there are still people who are out of work and there are people who are still struggling to keep up with their bills,” she said. “We also know there is an increase, especially in the number of people who have never needed this kind of service like this before.”

Funds from the red kettle campaign are used to help people throughout the year with utility assistance, pantry food, character-building programs for youth and programs for women, as well. Morrison said funds donated to the Salvation Army remain local.

Morrison said the group has set its annual goal at $155,000 for the year, $7,156 more than what the Salvation Army raised in 2019.

While the veterans groups can use their previous location in the Thunder Bay Shopping Center, Kish said they are now required to pay their utilities, which they have not had to do in years past.

A bottle drive is currently underway for the Vietnam Veterans operation. Kish said the group is accepting bottles, which have been used to buy supplies and, this year, will be used to pay for the utility bills.

Those who need assistance providing a Thanksgiving meal to their family have until Nov. 16 to sign up for Operation Holiday’s Feed a Family program.

Kish said holidays are always an extra expense that many people don’t have. She said the meals will be delivered on Nov. 21 and will include a Thanksgiving turkey, potatoes, gravy, stuffing, cranberries, and more.

The Toys for Kids program provides children with a small, medium, and large Christmas gift as well as stocking stuffers. The gifts are either purchased by the Vietnam Veterans groups or donated and are delivered to families with children.

The deadline to register for the Toys for Kids program is Dec. 7, and those toys will be delivered to families either on Dec. 12 or 19.

Contact Judy Trapp at 989-358-9085 to sign up for either the Feed a Family or Toys for Kids programs.

The group is also accepting donations, which can be dropped off in the Thunder Bay Shopping Center or by mailing a donation to VVA 583, P.O. Box 792 in Alpena.

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