Schools receive Christmas donations after finding United Way funds were in jeopardy

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - More than 500 people who were looking for assistance through the United Way for Christmas have gotten help from other sources.

Students and families from the Edison School of the Arts and the Thomas Gregg Neighborhood School partnered with agencies, such as the John Boner Center, to help families apply for Christmas assistance through the United Way of Central Indiana's United Christmas Service.

The program, which is possible solely through donor support, has nine days left to raise money for this holiday season. This year, 4,587 households were referred to the program from schools, hospitals, community centers and United Way agencies.

Donations are below the pace needed to reach the goal.

“Our donations are definitely down for our United Christmas Service," said the program's manger, Katie Cordell. "We know we aren’t the only holiday assistance program here in town but we’re still hopeful over the next week and a half there is time to raise that money.”

Donations to United Christmas Service help fund “Merry Money,” a one-time use voucher that qualifying individuals and families can exchange at a variety of local stores to purchase clothing, food and toys. A $120 donation supports a family of four and $30 supports an individual.

Due to a shortage in funds so far, the United Way started notifying agencies and families that there's a possibility not everyone would get approved for the program this year.

“Families are counting on this assistance, so we want to make sure we are transparent with the groups that we are supporting and the families that are looking for this holiday help if we are not able to do that," said Cordell, who is also the United Way's community impact manager.

That message got school administrators to act.

The Edison School of the Arts took to Facebook, asking the public to help the 234 students and their families. The request was made Wednesday evening and a school administrator said they were close to their goal within 24 hours, and expected to reach it.

The message on Facebook caught the attention of Marcie Luhigo, the global outreach director at The Creek, a church located on the southeast side of the city, near Franklin Central High School.

Luhigo asked Thomas Gregg's executive director if his school was in the same position. Ross Pippin found that his school could have 283 impacted by the shortage.

“December 25th for [the students] would be just another regular day," said Becky Villarreal, a bilingual social worker at the school. "The parents would more than likely just try to make sure the day isn’t special for the kids so they wouldn’t feel like they’re going without.”

Luhigo said the church would give $20 gift cards to each individual. A decision she plans to tell the church congregation this weekend.

“We were just thinking about the kids and the families we care so deeply about in this school," said Luhigo. The church and school have had a partnership for several years. "Many of them were really counting on this.”

Both schools said they planned to get the donations to the parents of their students over the next couple days.

As of Thursday, United Christmas Service had raised $335,940 which will provide holiday assistance to 2,799 families. In order to serve the remaining 1,788 households, United Christmas Service needs to raise $124,000 by December 22.

If you would like to donate to United Christmas Service, please click here.