By Laura Ann Tipps/Staff Writer
The Catholic Center of Concern in downtown Gadsden will provide Christmas gifts for about 800 children in northeast Alabama this year through their Toys for Tots program.
By partnering with Rainbow City’s McLaughlin Detachment of the Marine Corps, the Center will be able to give each of these children a gift bag worth between $50 and $80.
“We take wish lists when the families fill out their applications, and we try to get at least one nice thing from each wish list that the child really wants, in addition to other gifts,” said Mollie Crosser, director of the Catholic Center of Concern.
As soon as the application process is over and the Center’s staff determines how many children they are able to provide for, the toy collection begins.
The home office of the Marine Corps sends a portion of the items for the Christmas bags, and the Center receives limited grants and other revenue.
A large percentage of the toys and funds for the Toys for Tots program, however, come from donations by northeast Alabama residents.
The Marine Corps will be taking donations at Old Navy in East Gadsden for the next couple of weeks, and at Johnson’s Giant Food in Attalla during a couple of weekends between now and the middle of December, when the bagging process will begin.
Although the Center is not specifically affiliated with the local Saint James Catholic Church (rather, it falls under the umbrella of Catholic Social Services under the diocese of Birmingham), the church’s parishioners will be contributing to Toys for Tots by participating in “Ball Day.”
“Ball Day is November 16 and 17, and we’ve asked each parishioner to bring a ball of some kind, whether it be football, soccer, basketball, or softball or baseball with a glove, for the Christmas bags,” said Crosser.
The students at Saint James Catholic School will also be participating in Ball Day, and this is particularly exciting for Crosser and the Center’s staff.
“I try to get young people involved as much as I can, so they’ll be helping to fill up the bags for the Thanksgiving food drive to help them see how it all works,” Crosser said.
Crosser said it’s not too late to make donations of food or money for the Center’s yearly Thanksgiving food drive.
This year, they are collecting traditional side items for Thanksgiving dinner, but the Center’s activities are not limited to the holiday season.
Throughout the year, they function primarily as a food bank but also provide limited financial assistance to help families with rent, mortgage payments, utilities, or medications, as well as prenatal care for women who are not eligible for Medicaid and a back-to-school program in the summer.
“From January to September of this year, we helped an average of 300 families per month, or 20-35 families per day,” said Crosser, referring to the Center’s primary function as a food bank.
Crosser said the need for food in Etowah County is growing, and the Center strives to help the local food banks as much as possible by going to pick up food for them twice a month so that it can be distributed to other agencies.
The Catholic Center of Concern has partnered with organizations like Feeding America and United Way during various projects, including some renovations made to the Center during the United Way’s Day of Action.
Aside from money, Thanksgiving side items, and toys for Christmas, one of the most important donations the Center needs is time.
Besides Crosser, only one member of the staff is paid—the rest volunteer their time to work in the front office, stock shelves, and assist in carrying out the Center’s projects year-round.
“I don’t know if people realize how much we do here, the extent of how much we are involved with the community of northeast Alabama.
“I’d really encourage anybody who’s interested to come by and see what we do here, what it looks like.”
Those who would like to donate money, food, or toys can do so at the Center any time of the year. It is located at 612 Chestnut Street in Gadsden and is open Monday-Thursday from 9-11:30 a.m. and 1-2:30 p.m.. Call the Center at 256-546-0028 for more information.