Joni Smith walked into a giant room and surveyed the inventory: piles of boxed toys, dozens of rows of children’s bicycles. It was a small sampling of what it takes The Place of Forsyth County to pull off its “Holiday House,” the local nonprofit’s annual event that allows families in need to have the dignity of choosing their own Christmas gifts.
According to Melina Holt, The Place’s outreach coordinator, the nonprofit expects to serve more than 700 households and 2,100 children with over 300 bikes, 500 gift cards and 18,000 toys, all of which are either donated by members and organizations of the community or purchased by The Place with donated funds.
And it’s still usually not enough to last through the event’s four days, which was held Thursday and Friday and concludes Monday and Tuesday.
“Every year, we have to go out and buy toys,” said Smith, The Place’s executive director.
That may be even more so the case this year, since The Place decided to alter the standards families must meet to qualify for the event in hopes of helping more people.
The Place worked the previous four months to find qualified families through local nonprofits, churches and schools. To participate, families must live in Forsyth County and qualify at 200 percent above the Federal Poverty Guidelines (FPG). For 2018, a family of four living in poverty has an annual income of $25,100, or $2,092 a month, according to the guidelines. At 200 percent above the FPG, that number is $50,200.
In past years, The Place required that families make an income at 175 percent above the FPG, but Smith said they decided to increase their minimum requirement due to increased financial demands.
“We know that there are people that are struggling to get by that are working,” Smith said. “They’re working full-time. If you make minimum wage, you cannot afford rent, a car payment; surely can’t afford Christmas.”
And so families milled about on Thursday and Friday, going from room to room, each organized by category – infant and toddler, elementary boy, elementary girl, middle school boy, etc. – and picking out toys using a point system with the help of volunteers.
Still, as Smith looked at the “Holiday House” inventory, she knew there could’ve been more.
“What we found is a lot of people qualify, and they don’t know it,” Smith said. “There’s a pride thing about asking, and this should just be fun. … Christmas should be celebratory and joyous. For so many people, it’s depressive, it’s stressful, they don’t look forward to it. It’s an extra burden that they can’t provide, or they take on extra debt.
“We’re a generous community that donates all this. (The Place is) just the conduit to get it to the people.”