By Kim Walter
Local charities and shelters can always use monetary donations, but some are also in need of material items during the holiday season.
Response, Inc., a community organization in Woodstock that works to prevent and help people overcome the problems of sexual and domestic violence, offers a hotline, support group, education and emergency shelter.
Kristie Wilkin, the organization's executive director, said there are several items that the shelter could use: a deep freezer, shelving units, a microwave and DVD/VCR players.
"I understand that there's people who don't feel comfortable giving money," she said. "But hopefully someone will be willing to donate a physical thing that we can use."
While she said check-ins to the shelter typically die down during the week of Christmas, the visits increase in the time leading up to and directly after the holiday.
"I think it could have to do with the stress that can come with the holidays ... arguments over finances, things like that," Wilkin said. Even during the rest of the year, the shelter runs at a virtually full capacity, she added. The shelter has a total of 26 beds. "Obviously, we don't want that to be the case, but I'm glad we're here."
A typical victim of domestic or sexual assault who chooses to stay at the shelter will reside there for about 60 days, Wilkin said. However, Response, Inc. has come up with several ways to try and make the stay more enjoyable during the holidays.
"Especially for the single women, we make sure there are wrapped presents to greet them on Christmas morning," she said. "Any kids that are here will get a stocking, and everyone here gets a huge Christmas meal."
Christmas arts activities are also held, as well as cookie baking and a time for children to make a gift for their mother, Wilkin said, "to help get them in the Christmas spirit."
Volunteers are needed for the activities, but also on a regular basis, whether its to play with the children or to help answer the hotline from their home.
"If we're going to change society's norms, it's got to stay with the intervention," she said. "The need for shelters like this is certainly still here."
The Laurel Center, a Winchester-based organization that serves the city, Frederick and Clarke counties, also deals with victims of domestic or sexual violence and offers a shelter. The center keeps a continuous "wish list" of day-to- day items -- pillows, sheets, trash bags, toilet paper, plastic cups, etc. -- but could also use some other things.
Rebekah Carper, the domestic violence services coordinator, said the shelter is steadily full through the year, and its hard to say whether the holidays will prove to be an even busier time.
"For some the holidays are a time when families actually do get along, but there's also the stress factor," she said.
The center could use some dining room chairs, Carper said. Even though they don't always have a direct need for furniture, the items can be stored and given to women once they find housing outside the shelter. In an effort to update the children's room, the organization is also looking for kid-appropriate toys, like kitchen sets or large, Fisher-Price items.
New rugs for the kid's room also would be great, Carper said, but added that at this point they'll take whatever kind of rugs they can get.
"Working here, it makes you really appreciate what have ... not to sound cliche, but it makes you take a second and realize the real reason for the season isn't just about gifts," she said. "In the midst of the hustle and bustle, when you're out looking for that perfect present, you remember that there's kids who aren't sleeping in comfort of their own bed, and don't have a safe place to stay besides this shelter ... the need for emergency shelter doesn't stop just because it's the holidays."
Front Royal's House of Hope, a men's shelter, is looking more for day-to-day items for residents, like coffee, deodorant, razors and sweat suits, according to assistant monitor and resident Ernie Bate.
"We've actually got two empty beds right now, but that could change at any minute," he said on Friday. Men who come to the shelter have to maintain a sober status, and can be tested for the presence of alcohol and drugs on a daily basis.
Residents are also required to look for work and low income housing, but Bate said with the economy the way it is, that task is proving harder than ever.
"There's this stigma for homeless people ... that they're bad or dirty," he said. "But the gentlemen here are simply people who are going through some hard times, and are now trying very hard to better themselves."
During the holiday season, area churches will hold some type of holiday event and meal for the men at House of Hope. Men can also visit any family members that may be near.
"Of course,we want them to have a good Christmas," Bate said.
To donate any of the mentioned items, or to learn what else the shelters need, call 540-459-5599 for Response, Inc., 540-667-6160 for the Laurel Center, or 540-665-2166 for House of Hope.
If you work for a shelter or nonprofit that is looking for donated items, please comment on our online version of this story at nvdaily.com.
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org