Summer is not done and it’s far too early to worry about Christmas plans. Unless you’re Gerry Siglow, in which case you are seriously worrying about the holiday and about the Grinch who just might succeed in cancelling it.
Will the COVID Grinch cause the cancellation of the much needed by many, Christmas food and gift baskets for those in need? Because of the virus, this annual giving is needed now more than ever, and due to lack of volunteers, it may be cancelled.
A little back story here: Siglow is the CEO of the well-known and respected charity King’s Things Christian Thrift Store. The charity, at 1404 King’s Highway in Swedesboro, raises money through the sale of donated items and uses the income to provide wide-ranging support for the needy in the community, offering, among other support, a food bank, clothing, utility bill and certain other payments, and compassion. It is a year-round effort that depends on the compassion of a volunteer staff.
But right around late summer, Siglow morphs into the charity’s de facto St. Nick. He begins preparations for the charity’s most beloved outreach, the “Christmas box”, the “bundles of joy”, a “full dinner feast”, there are a number of names he gave for the mission that Siglow began overseeing 37 years ago. He takes charge of the program planning, organizing, seeking, and storing holiday donations and the list of families in need with notations of what their needs are. Children will get age-appropriate gifts to open, and parents are asked what they might find useful. “We go into high gear about now for every Christmas,” Siglow said.
Like any good Santa, Siglow has a list and checks it way more than twice. He knows that the Christmas box is happily anticipated by the 800 or so families he said King’s Things serves with holiday cheer. That works out to nearly 1,000 residents, he added. At the heart of his list are the two most important essentials: sufficient donations to match the requests of recipients and sufficient volunteers to categorize, pack, wrap, pick up donations and deliver Christmas cheer.
It is a massive undertaking, from the live poinsettia for each family to the fruit, turkey, chicken, veggies and all the variations of a traditional holiday meal. Plus, every child 18 and under receives two to four Christmas gifts, donated by citizens who have seen the “giving trees” at area churches, where a child has printed a wish for a toy on the back of a mitten ornament.
It isn’t just the thrift store and churches participating in a Christmas of joy for people in need in the greater Swedesboro/Woolwich area. Donations to the program are offered by several local groceries and by local community groups, and those donations must be picked up, stored, and listed. Usually, Siglow said, this is done by volunteers from the neighborhoods and school districts, youth groups, church groups, and other friends of the thrift shop.
This is precisely the part that now worries Siglow, the part where he fears the Grinch will halt the cadre of volunteers from coming. Since 1983, year after year, Siglow counted on a welcome crew of dedicated volunteers to truck and sort donations, carry and lift cartons of canned goods, bags of toys, deliver Christmas dinners to families who can’t get to the thrift store, pack and label boxes of donations from groceries and ferry supplies from food banks, and other necessary work demanded by the tradition of giving.
It is a major undertaking that Siglow admits scares him this year. “My overwhelming concern is, if we engage to do the program this Christmas, will there be enough volunteers for it to be a success,” Siglow said. “I remember several years ago there was a snowstorm and I figured there’d be nobody coming. But they did. They shoveled the snow, freed the trucks, carried the items. It was wonderful.
“But this is different than a snowstorm. This is COVID-19. We have a very dedicated volunteer crew, but many are in the 74-age group. I’m 74. I understand why people would worry and I have sleepless nights over this. We have a mission and it depends on others to make it happen.
“Otherwise we don’t have Christmas. The Grinch wins.”
That dire scenario, where all options are considered, is part of CEO planning, of course, but Siglow said he is hoping his volunteers will come through for the community Christmas effort or that a work-around can be engineered, such as asking families that can to come to the store for their holiday meal and boxed gifts. That would lessen deliveries, but delivery is only a portion of the service. Picking up and sorting donations, buying foodstuffs with monetary donations, stacking crates and boxes, all are done by the volunteers, young and older, ahead of time and will not likely be done if they choose to skip this year.
“What I really need is to test the waters to see how many volunteers plan to come,” Siglow said. “I can plan ahead if I have enough volunteers.” And, he theorized, he can, “make arrangements hopefully to help at least some families if I know how many volunteers I can count on. What I need right now is some idea of how many volunteers plan to commit.”
He has enlisted two experienced nurses in his effort to protect the volunteers and save the Christmas Giveaway. “They are experienced in how to clean and sanitize and protect the volunteers,” Siglow said, “and we will be following their advice closely.”
At the end of this article is a press release Siglow delivered to the newspaper, in which he outlines the options he finds himself facing.
It is missing one option. It is the option that, like they did during the snowstorm, enough Christmas volunteers will call and commit to helping and following safety measures, that this 38th year tradition of giving much needed holiday cheer to the community will, like Seuss’ story of the Grinch, prove that the spirit of Christmas is strong and cannot be driven away.
If you are a volunteer or volunteer group, or wish to be, Siglow asks that you please phone him at the number listed in the press release below and here: 856-467-3066.
If you are a previous volunteer but do not plan to participate this year, please call to let King’s Things know so you are not counted as currently available.
— by Jean Redstone
In my tenure at King’s Things this the most difficult statement I have had to make. As you know the Christmas program we have sponsored since 1983 is in jeopardy. The pandemic has affected King’s Things in many ways, our core of volunteers has dwindled. In September we start planning for Christmas with the pandemic and not knowing what the fall conditions will be. I now have three options:
Option 1. Cancel the program
Option 2. Reduce the size and scope
Option 3. Ask for a show of hands of people who would volunteer
These volunteers will be asked to pick up the nonperishable foods, sort, pack and deliver. You may volunteer for any one or more of the tasks
I have solicited the help of medical professionals to support the safest way to operate
If you feel you can volunteer please call me, my phone number is 856-467-3066
Gerry Siglow, Chairman