The thrill of discovery on Christmas morning is a feeling many adults fondly recall from childhood. Much harder to imagine would be experiencing that same anticipation and ever-present buildup of the season only to be followed by stinging disappointment.

“For a child, growing up in poverty is hard,” says Tamara Thrasher, social services client advocate in Cincinnati. “In the weeks leading up to Christmas you are asked by your friends and teachers, ‘What do you want for Christmas?’ You have so many ideas … but when you wake up on Christmas, there might not be a tree, there might not be any presents. 

“Why did Santa forget about you? ‘Maybe he could not find us because we live in a car.’ What do you say when you go back to school and the teacher asks you what Santa brought you for Christmas?”

Great numbers of children in Cincinnati are experiencing this kind of poverty. Of the 78 largest U.S. cities, Cincinnati has the fourth-worst rate of childhood poverty, with 44.3 percent of families with children living below the poverty line in the city, says Mike Dunn, executive director of St. Vincent de Paul – Cincinnati.

In 2015, the society helped 10,000 families for the holidays. 

“While we try to serve as many as we can, that still leaves thousands who have to figure out how to get through the holidays on their own,” Dunn says. 

But that’s where individual donors and businesses can pitch in through SVDP programs like Hope for the Holidays.

“Our programs are a great way for businesses or individuals looking to give back to the community around the holidays,” says Larry Shields, director of community relations for St. Vincent de Paul – Cincinnati. “Businesses can help by hosting a food or coat drive to support our Thanksgiving and Christmas distributions and coat distribution. We make it easy by providing the collection barrels, information and pickups.”

Now, “we have a particular need for larger size coats (XXL and up) as well as gifts for teen boys and girls,” he says. “Both of these areas are specific needs we have every year and would be a wonderful area for a business to get involved.” 

While the society partners with WLWT, Gold Star Chili and Kemba Credit Union for its annual coat drive and FOX19 and Kroger for its annual Food From The Heart collection, other groups, businesses, and individuals can also get involved by hosting a barrel or barrels or helping out on the ground level at those distributions. More information can be found at the website, SVDPcincinnati.org. 

Donors can ensure entire families celebrate Christmas with SVDP’s “Christmas Together” program. This program lets a St. Vincent de Paul family create a wish list after which a donor or group of donors sponsors that family and shops for them to help grant their Christmas wishes.

“Parents of larger families tend to have an especially difficult time making ends meet during the holidays,” Dunn says. “It is difficult to find sponsors for these large families through ‘Christmas Together,’ [but] companies usually have the resources and manpower to help some of our larger families.”

Shields says its Christmas Angel Toy program gathers donated new toys or monetary gifts to purchase toys for children. Then, parents get the opportunity to “shop” for gifts for their families while Santa and volunteers entertain the kids with crafts, stories and other activities. 

While the feeling of going without is one adults served by SVDP know well, it’s not one they ever want their children to share.

“We all want our kids to be happy year round, but especially on Christmas,” Thrasher says. “But when you are already struggling to keep your household afloat, you just do not have any extra money to spend. It is a very hurtful and defeated feeling.”