Our Family Services Case Manager Kim Cook stocked the Holiday Store last year with gifts for homeless and near-homeless families and children. This year, donations for the store are being accepted till Dec. 14.


While you are making your list and checking it twice, local nonprofits that aid the homeless hope their clients will make the cut this holiday season.

Your donation of gift cards, toys or clothing - or your purchase of a holiday poinsettia - can help make the holidays for families who can't go home, said Patti Caldwell, executive director of Our Family Services.

"Anytime you see big recessions like we just had and the economy begins to start up again, the people who feel better about it soonest are the people who have something. It takes the longest for people at the bottom to feel the positive impact of improvement in the economy," Caldwell said.

Our Family's shelter, with 40 beds, is full every night, and so is its transitional housing, she said.

The organization, which directly interacts with about 10,000 clients each year, is the result of a merger last July between Our Family Services and New Beginnings for Women & Children.

It has community roots dating to the 1950s through nonprofits such as the Family Counseling Agency. Caldwell said "a blended family" has been formed over decades through alliances with Our Town, Information & Referral Services and the House of Neighborly Service.

The recent merger provides a homeless-services division that offers shelter, housing and support services for homeless and near-homeless children and families under the name of New Beginnings. A second division, Strong Communities, offers counseling, education, information and referral, senior services, mediation and other support services for people of all ages.

"Like many mergers of not-for-profits that have taken place in the community, it is a good example of how, in a positive way, we are consolidating and really strengthening the programs and services we offer that benefit people in our community," Caldwell said. "It is good for the community and good for our clients in terms of the variety of options it provides for them."

Caldwell said the majority of clients served by Our Family Services are the working poor, many of whom lost jobs or had wages cut and then lost their homes during the recession.

"These are people who are in jobs that are clearly not livable wage jobs, and though the economy is getting better and their hours may be back up to 30 a week, that doesn't make it easy to make ends meet or pay down the debt they incurred which may have led them to become homeless."

At the organization's Holiday Store, parents, young adults and kids come in and "shop" from items that have been donated so they can pick things out themselves to give to each other within their own families.

"It brings some joy into their lives during the holidays," Caldwell said.

Making the holidays brighter for homeless junior high and high school students is as easy as donating a $10 gift card to Youth On Their Own (YOTO), said development director Matt Yotter. The local nonprofit supports the high school graduation and continued success of homeless youth by providing financial assistance, basic needs and guidance.

Yotter said there are an estimated 4,000 homeless youth in Pima County and that need is on the rise among this quiet population.

"Last year at this time we had 400 students in the program and this year we have 685. We take enrollment throughout the school year, so those numbers could go up further," he said.

Yotter said YOTO seeks to provide one $10 gift card for each student to enable them to purchase perishable food items, clothing, underwear or other basic needs.

"We ask for $10 increments because we want to make sure every kid gets one gift card for holiday cheer. It also makes it easy for people who want to give back to participate since we are not asking for a lot," Yotter said.

Last year, the organization was able to provide two gift cards per client. Yotter realizes this may be difficult to accomplish again, but he is hopeful that Tucsonans will rally around the cause.

"In our own little way, we are creating our community. We had a 92 percent graduation rate for seniors in our program last year and the year before, compared to a state average of 75 percent," Yotter said. "We turn out kids that have a brighter future and have some opportunity to attend colleges, junior colleges or universities and have better marketability for jobs."

Get Involved / C6

How You Can Help

Here are three ways to help the homeless this holiday season:

• Our Family Services needs donations of holiday food, household items, gift cards in increments of $25 and toys for children of all ages for its Holiday Store, which clients visit at no charge.

Donations will be accepted until Dec. 14 at 2590 N. Alvernon Way.

For more information, or to make an online donation, visit the website at www.ourfamilyservices.org or call 325-8800.

• Purchase a red holiday poinsettia at the 24th Annual Poinsettia Sale.

Poinsettias are $12.50 each ($6.50 is tax-deductible), with free delivery for orders of 12 plants or more. Order at www.ourfamilyservices.org online. Quantities are limited.

Plants will be available for pick-up Dec. 6-8 at 3901 E. Grant Road. All proceeds benefit Our Family Services in the tradition of New Beginnings. For more information call 325-8800.

• Youth On Their Own needs donations of gift cards in $10 increments to Walmart, Target, Fry's and Safeway for at least 685 homeless junior high and high school students ages 13 to 21.

Donations will be accepted through Dec. 9 at the Youth On Their Own office, 1443 W. Prince Road. The organization also accepts donations of backpacks, school supplies, toiletries and nonperishable foods.

For more information, or to make an online donation, visit the website at yoto.org or call 293-1136.

Contact Loni Nannini at ninch2@comcast.net