FAIRMONT — While most local Christmas gift drives focus on elementary school-age kids, one nonprofit wants to make sure teens aren’t forgotten.
Jone Webb, executive director of The Connecting Link, and her staff are usually busy during the holiday season managing the registration and organization of many of the Christmas donation drives, including the communitywide Marion County Christmas Toy Shop.
Several years ago, Webb noticed that between projects like the Marion County Christmas Toy Shop and Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program, there weren’t many drives that target teens.
“None of [the other programs] we’re doing anything above 13 years of age,” Webb said. “Six or seven years ago, our board and myself decided we could take that on and make a difference. We made it our mission to make sure they get something.”
The result was Teen Angels, a gift drive that The Connecting Link carries out in its collaborative work with the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree gift drive for younger children. Calls to the Salvation Army about their Angel Tree program were not returned by deadline.
Every year, Teen Angels has grown in size. The first year, Connecting Link was able to help 24 teens and last year, despite COVID-19 restrictions, the total continued to grow to 84 teens.
“With COVID, it was all basically different,” Webb said. “Most of our applications were done over the phone and normally, the angels are able to ‘shop’ for their gifts but last year we did a drive-thru.”
During the 2021 holiday season, the program will operate somewhat like last year. Families with teens between 14- and 18-years-old are invited to register at The Connecting Link’s office.
The only materials needed to sign up are is a valid photo ID of the guardian and the teen’s birth certificate. Sign-ups end Oct. 31 and no application is rejected.
Every teen registered will receive a bag of around $50 worth of goodies. The likes and dislikes of the teens are discussed during registration.
The Connecting Link is currently collecting items that will go to fill the bags the teens will receive. The needs range from personal hygiene items and winter clothing to fast food gift cards and non-perishable snacks.
“Last year, we gave each teen a huge bag with snack foods and personal care items as well as clothing and all kinds of stuff,” Webb said. “Individuals and the banks will usually make donations and we put it all together and make sure [the teens] have a nice little something for Christmas.”
Monetary donations are also welcome. All donations should be dropped off to The Connecting Link’s office at 205 Fairmont Ave. The deadline for receiving donations is Nov. 29.
The Connecting Link’s annual fundraising event, Holiday Surprise Bingo, is also coming up Nov. 14 at the Robert H. Mollohan Research Center. Tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at the door.
To register for the Teen Angels program or to find out more information about The Connecting Link’s 2021 holiday programs, call their office at 304-363-4882.