Moultrie Observer

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September 19, 2011

Early jump on ‘cheer’

Social workers brace toy shop for tough economy

MOULTRIE — School social workers and their interns might as well had on pointed hats and curly-toed shoes. Bustling with armloads of Clue board games, boxes of Barbies and bags of freshly pumped soccer balls, one might have mistaken them for Christmas elves at the Children’s Cheer and Toy Shop Thursday.

They have good cause to be so busy in September. They’re expecting a third more increase in applications for assistance this Christmas season.  Last year, the Cheer and Toy Shop distributed 2,274 bags of toys for qualified families, said Director Denise Pope. This year, that number is predicted to reach more than 3,000.

 “So many people have lost their jobs, and everything’s so expensive. When I go to the grocery store, it seems like everything’s gone up,” said Cox Elementary School Social Worker Sandy Hooks. “At school, we see so many children who need clothes, shoes, bookbags, school supplies. I mean, parents are having to spend their money for the very basic things, food, rent, utilities. This year is going to be a hard Christmas for a lot of people this year. Money’s going to be tight. Rent’s not going down. The price of food’s not going down. Gas is not going down. Everything is up,” she said.

Colquitt County Schools Superintendent Leonard McCoy allows school social workers one day a month to work at the toy shop. Prior to that, social workers would come after hours and on weekends to organize donations and refurbish toys.

“It’s so wonderful to have someone who supports us, someone to give us that backing we need,” Hooks said. “We’re so much further along than we were last year. It’s good we’re getting things done, because we’re going to need more.”

Colquitt County High School Social Worker Lisa Clarke Hill agrees.

“In times like these, it’s such a joy to know that we work for someone, Mr. Leonard McCoy, who cares enough to let us spend our work time giving. The community, families and schools, it all goes together,” Hill said. “This is about doing something greater than yourself – greater than yourself. Even though you’re family may have troubles, you’re looking beyond that to understand that there are those who are without means.

“In tough economic times, families don’t have enough for Christmas cheer. Most of the families that come here are low income. Some are victims of house fires. This is what Christmas is all about, spreading the love,” she said.

Kristie Cornell, a second year masters’ student in social work at Valdosta State University, was an intern with Colquitt County Schools last year.  This year, she’s volunteering her time with the Moultrie program.

 When asked why, Cornell said, “Just to help. That’s what our profession is all about. I know that this serves a big population, and they need help.”

As liaison of the school system’s McKinney-Vento homeless grant program, Pope sees the struggle first hand.

“I saw four families just this morning who don’t have anywhere to go,” she said. “Poverty is on the rise.”

In fact, Colquitt County’s most recent unemployment rate is up to 10.1 percent. Social services workers report a rise in first time applications for food stamps and public assistance. School social workers observe increases in discipline problems, which are thought to be due in part to increased stress at home.

“This program fills in those gaps,” said Mary Strong, social worker for Stringfellow Elementary School. “It’s a good thing.”

In addition to toys and sports equipment, Pope and school staff hope the public will contribute batteries, new toiletries such as toothbrushes, toothpastes, deodorants, colognes, body washes and shaving kits for older children.

To contribute new or used toys in good condition to the Children’s Cheer and Toy Shop, contact a school social worker or Denise Pope at 890-8697 or at Norman Park Elementary at 769-3612.

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