Tina Ding




As we transition from one season to another, social expectations are abundant. From holiday decor and dinner gatherings to gift giving and staying warm on chilly nights, financial stress can be a game changer in the flow from Thanksgiving to the Christmas season. And it can happen to the best of us.

Sometimes the going gets tough. Unexpectedly, a job is eliminated; without warning, a family member becomes ill; the furnace goes out; the car won't start. One thing leads to another, and desperate times cause a tremendous change in lifestyle. It's at these times, an eviction notice could be a reality. No home, no transportation, no food, no money for essentials.

Whether a family is just hanging on or needs a boost, several options can offer support.

Community Action helps those who struggle to make ends meet. To be eligible as a recipient, each individual or family walks through an intake for income verification. Once determined eligible, there are a number of programs they may elect to participate in. Two such programs depend largely upon community donations for the purchase of food: the backpack program and the food pantry. Initially, the program filled backpacks with food, such as bread, granola bars, a canned dinner, fruit cups and more, then delivered it to children at community schools. The program has stretched and now reaches an increased number of families. Today, bags are delivered every other week to both elementary and middle schools within Bismarck, Mandan and Solen. Monetary donations given to Community Action support both the backpack program and the food pantry. At this time of the year, the food pantry covers 50 -- 60 families each week.

"Food drives or monetary donations support both the Backpack Program and the Food Pantry," Community Action interim executive director Andrea Werner said. "Additionally, our Donation Center provides household items, personal hygiene items, bedding, towels, furnishings and children's clothing. We rely upon ongoing community donations to support us."

Operation Christmas Child provides a shoebox to children overseas. A ministry of giving, shoeboxes are provided at area churches to be filled by donors, then returned to be sent to distribution centers. Bibi Mehring communicates with area churches to help establish an understanding of the program as well as to encourage participation. One local church, Evangel, supported this ministry with 1,775 boxes last season.

"We see older boys and girls as those less frequently remembered in Christmas boxes," Mehring said. "To keep our girls away from human trafficking, we hope to promote gifts of sewing kits so they might learn a trade; likewise, we are encouraged to see toolkits for older boys." Other items needed most include headbands, barrettes, flashlights and batteries, soccer balls and pumps. School supplies are critical for student aged children -- because without them, they are restricted from participating in school or educational opportunities. Supplies are required to attend.

"We hope to see pretty much anything and everything for these older children to use that is practical and fun," Mehring said.

Located at the top of the strip, across from McDonalds, Community Blessings of Mandan strives to make a difference locally. Sole proprietor Theresa Stockert takes anything and everything in donations. Items that are most in need include basic household items, such as towels, kitchenware, bedding and children's clothing. When inventory is high, they offer a deck sale, marking items at nominal prices in order to provide to those most in need. From time to time, they open up the parking lot for a 24-hour sale. Additionally, certain items are free will offering, after hours, on the deck. "Our donations come by way of monetary offerings above and beyond the sale price on items, at times. This is a sole proprietorship, and we do have bills to pay, so receiving saleable items helps to support our staying in business," Stockert said. "We appreciate all donations, because we'll find a home for them."

Tracy's Sanctuary House supports families whose medical expenses or medical situations prevent them from affording hotel stays for the duration of their time in Bismarck. Serving as many as five families at once, the House accepts donations of bedding, towels, detergents and personal hygiene items as well as gift cards for gas or to area departments store.

"Holidays are stressful when away from home," executive director Kelsey Zottnick said. "We try to decorate for the holidays and want to ensure this is a place they can feel 'normal'."

Whether on the giving or receiving side, your family can be impacted in a beautiful way. Whether you purchase a gift card for an organization or by pay it forward by paying for the vehicle behind you in a drive-thru, the season feels a little cheerier and a bit less stressful.

Tina Ding is a teacher, freelance writer and grad school student with plenty of time for her husband and three children. She also loves photography, scrapbooking, reading and traveling.