MANCHESTER — Work begins months before families will pick out free toys for their kids for Christmas through the Union Leader Santa Fund for the Salvation Army on Dec. 17.
“Christmas starts in August,” Salvation Army Capt. Michael Harper said Wednesday.
Word goes out in late summer about the first day to apply for help from the fund in October.
To date, about 900 families have applied for assistance, which includes a gift card from Market Basket and several toys for each child.
“We can make a kid smile with a gift,” Harper said.
Dec. 5 is the last scheduled day to apply with the Salvation Army.
One of the season’s first donors is the Moquin & Daley law firm, which has offices in Manchester and Boston. Its partners donated $5,000.
“Even though we have a good economy at the moment, there are people who get left behind due to no fault of their own,” partner Terrence Daley said. “Things like mental illness, accidents, substance abuse, things people can’t control, often keep them out of participating in what’s been a great economy. There’s always people that need help. That’s why we believe so strongly in the Santa Fund.”
Families must apply in person and bring income documentation.
“We have a cadre of volunteers that works with each family when they come in,” Harper said. “They need to show they’re income eligible.”
People are asked to bring a valid photo ID as well as identification for each child, such as a birth certificate or Social Security card. They also need to bring their household statement of public assistance benefits.
Volunteers add up what benefits and wages a family receives to ensure the family is eligible for the Santa fund. For a family of four, the maximum yearly income is $46,435, matching federal guidelines for receiving surplus federal food items, such as cheese. A family of three has a yearly limit of $38,443.
“What we’re trying to do is set the bar pretty low in terms of what you have, so it’s universally accessible to the folks that need it,” Harper said.
Last year, the fund raised more than $190,000. That meant 300 children got winter clothing, 2,844 children received toys under their trees, 76 children attended summer camp and 4,777 children and adults received items they needed for a holiday meal.
Harper said it’s too soon to know how this year will stack up against last year.
The applicants are like the city itself — “very diverse,” he said.
“Anyone who comes to us in need, we help,” Harper said. “That’s our mission.”
The Salvation Army’s service area includes not only Manchester but Bedford, Goffstown and Litchfield. People who meet the income eligibility in those communities can apply for the Santa Fund.
“What we are able to do with the partnership with the Santa Fund is to add a little grace for people who lived very unadorned lives otherwise,” Harper said.
• Santa Fund donations can be made online at www.unionleader.com/santafund. It’s fast, easy and convenient.
• Donations also may be made by sending a check to the Union Leader Santa Fund, c/o New Hampshire Union Leader, P.O. Box 9555, Manchester, NH, 03108.
• Or drop your donation in the Santa Fund box in the lobby of the newspaper at 100 William Loeb Drive, Manchester, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.