BANGOR, Maine — The Christmas tree at Manna Ministries Inc. has 300 cards that represent about 800 people needing help this Christmas season.
At a time when more people are in need, the same economy that has left many without has also dampened the enthusiasm for giving, according to Bill Rae, executive director of Manna. He said Tuesday that fewer people are able to donate what they did before so collections for the community Christmas project are behind about $2,500 from last year at this time.
“The people who came last year had jobs and made a lot of donations,” Rae said. “This year, the same people are coming back and they’re saying, “Please help me, we don’t know what we’re going to do, we don’t know how we’re going to take care of ourselves.” Those who are giving $1 to $4 apologize to Rae that they can’t give more, he said.
Those on unemployment are trying to make their small unemployment checks stretch to cover the same bills they had while they were employed and received larger checks, according to Rae. They’re finding they don’t have enough money for clothing such as coats and boots, he said.
Pride makes it difficult for someone who has been on the giving end for so long to turn around and ask for help, Rae said. So whatever they ask for within reason, Rae said he works hard to get. The community usually comes through and fills the need.
“This is the neighbor helping neighbor, this is the community taking care of its own, and Manna is sort of just the hands and the feet of the heartbeat and the heartbeat is the community,” Rae said.
And those neighbors come from as far away as Dover-Foxcroft. Lilly Weatherbee, 51, played a large role this year in helping the organization, according to Rae. Weatherbee recently turned in 100 colorful Christmas stockings she had made for Manna and thought her work as one of Santa’s helpers was done.
But when Weatherbee, a Bangor Savings Bank retail loan officer, learned that about 300 families had signed up for Christmas help this season and of those, three-quarters were children, she knew she had more to do. So she returned to her home and made another 100 stockings. Like the previous batch, she included an assortment of items to fill them.
“This is a fantastic thing she’s doing,” Rae said of Weatherbee. “We should be able to give stockings out to almost everybody, or at least every family that comes to our Christmas party.”
Weatherbee said it felt good to help those less fortunate, especially during the Christmas season when children look forward to Santa. The stockings will assure these children that Santa did not overlook them.
Equally warming to Weatherbee, she said, was the help she received to fill the second batch of stockings. When other Bangor Savings Bank officials read an earlier Bangor Daily News story about her donation, she said they sent toys and money to help fill the stockings. For her, it is more blessed to give then receive.
Rae hopes others will adopt Weatherbee’s good will and stop at the community kiosk in the JC Penney court from 10 a.m. to closing every day until Christmas to help those less fortunate, or stop in at Manna’s headquarters at 629 Main St. and make a donation or pick a name off the Christmas Tree of Hope and purchase a gift for the individual. He said adults have been included in the giving because they too need presents.
“They need a warm coat or a pair of boots,” he said. Other highly requested gifts this year include blankets and sheets, as well as Crockpots, which are cheaper to cook with.
“The recession is not over at this level,” Rae said. “We’ve got people in this community who are hurting so bad, our neighbors are hurting because they have to make a decision between oil or warm clothing.”
Rae said he can’t conceive that, in this economy and in the United States, people have to make those kinds of decisions. “The guys on Wall Street are sitting there wondering about their bonuses and we’ve got people here that are running around in shoes that are 2 years old.” No stimulus money came from Washington, D.C., to help people at Christmastime, he said.