Emerge Center Against Domestic Abuse is seeking donations of gift cards along with new toys, clothing, shoes and bedding to help the families it serves.

Submitted photo

Baby, it’s cold outside, at least by Tucson standards.

If you are looking for a way to warm up the holidays for the less fortunate, all it takes is a card: A gift card, that is.

Donations of gift cards in any denomination represent more than just a gift when used at Holiday House 2013 for clients of Emerge Center Against Domestic Abuse, says executive director Ed Mercurio-Sakwa.

“The Holiday House is a quasi-retail setup where, at no cost to them, clients can ‘shop’ for their children, have gifts wrapped and have a holiday experience as if they were not going through other trauma in their lives … this is one way to help bring some level of normalcy and joy to what otherwise is a very difficult situation,” Mercurio-Sakwa said.

More than 400 women and children receiving emergency shelter or using transitional or permanent housing or community-based services will shop Holiday House 2013.

Last year Emerge served more than 3,500 individuals (including men); its 24-hour Crisis Line (888-428-0101) fielded more than 5,000 calls.

Mercurio-Sakwa said that while domestic violence affects those in every culture and at every income level, typically clients come to Emerge with very little.

“Lots of people who are fleeing domestic violence are leaving their homes with nothing. We see people come in with literally a trash bag of belongings for themselves and their children: They just grabbed what they could on their way out,” he said.

Since clients often arrive with no forewarning, gift cards are a flexible option for the Holiday House; also, those left over can be used year-round to fill client needs.

“We may not know who is coming to the Holiday House until the very last minute, and gift cards make it much easier if we have, for example, more teenage boys than we thought we would. Gift cards can adapt to whatever we need to purchase for gifts or can be adapted within those families for use themselves,” Mercurio-Sakwa said.

More than 800 local homeless teens served by Youth on Their Own (YOTO) can also benefit from the versatility of gift cards. The nonprofit is seeking donations of at least 4,000 gift cards in $10 increments to Fry’s, Safeway, Target and Walmart.

“Gift cards to these stores are the most useful since they have locations throughout Pima County and offer not only gas and fresh produce but a wide variety of items that the youth need. It gives them a lot of hope during the holidays,” said YOTO Development Director Faith Carrabis.

Youth on Their Own, which assists youth in grades seven through 12, seeks to help homeless students finish high school by providing financial help, basic needs and guidance.

The nonprofit also helps students access resources to referrals for stable housing and jobs, and provides advocacy designed to aid students with educational stability. And it offers aid of $4.65 a day — up to $140 a month during the school year — based on grades of C or better and school attendance.

Clients include teens who have been ordered to leave home or abandoned by their parents as well as those who have run away to escape physical, sexual or substance abuse or violence.

The students often go unnoticed, since many stay with siblings or relatives or move from the home of one friend to another.

“The National Coalition for the Homeless recognizes three main causes for youth homelessness: family problems, economic problems and residential instability, and their statistics show that 75 percent of homeless or runaway youth will end up dropping out of school,” Carrabis said.

Carrabis said Youth on Their Own uses a unique network of more than 100 volunteer school liaisons such as counselors, teachers and principals to identify the youth and connect them with services.

She emphasized that for students living on the edge of poverty, the gift cards from Youth on Their Own may represent their only form of holiday cheer.

Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at ninch2@comcast.net