Here’s how you can help Operation Holiday bring Christmas to Wichita
Don’t let the dimly lit, disheveled interior fool you: This makeshift warehouse in a long-vacated Sears auto center is now the central hub of Operation Holiday, a Wichita community campaign enlisting hundreds of volunteers who will bring Christmas to thousands of local families and their children.
“I really appreciate whoever named it Operation Holiday over 60 years ago because it is definitely an operation,” says Matty Marx, operations manager. “It takes the whole community.”
Marx, dressed in a Christmas red Operation Holiday T-shirt, beams with cheerful optimism at the task before her: coordinating hundreds of volunteers who take applications from families seeking help, distributing collection boxes, collecting donations, sorting and packing cans and foodstuffs into individual boxes for each family, then distributing it all over a three-day period to 3,600 households. She has to limit volunteer shifts to two hours each on distribution days, “because so many people want to help Operation Holiday, which is awesome.”
Operation Holiday has been coordinated each year since 1960 by HumanKind Ministries, a Wichita nonprofit that provides housing and other services to people facing homelessness. First established in 1885, the organization was known originally as the Wichita Ministerial Alliance, and since the 1970s as Inter-Faith Ministries. In 2019, it was renamed HumanKind Ministries.
In partnership with Toys for Tots, Operation Holiday collects food and clothing at drop sites across town (there’s one at every Dillons) to give to families in need. Applications are accepted from families with incomes up to 200% of the federal poverty level, based on the two most recent months of income. People apply for help in November, then receive goods during a drive-through distribution held Dec. 14-17.
Each household receives a food box containing an assortment of protein, canned vegetables, fruit and soups, plus grains, pasta, peanut butter and cereals. Families with pets also receive pet food, thanks to support from Skaer Veterinary Clinic. Children receive a winter coat plus age-appropriate toys provided by Toys for Tots. And as yearly donations allow, each household also receives a Dillons gift card worth $20 or more based on family size for the purchase of additional food.
Expired COVID relief triggers increase in need
This year, Operation Holiday expects to provide for about 3,600 households that include 9,000 children. Actually doing this depends on donations – donated time, donated cans, donated toys, donated food and donated money.
It’s always a challenge to meet the need, but especially this year. HumanKind has seen demand for all its services increase by about 50% over last year. “We’ve seen more families in our shelters and bigger needs all around,” said Halaina Woolsey, HumanKind’s marketing coordinator.
Marx suspects that is linked to COVID assistance expiring. During 2020 and 2021, to offset the financial impacts of the pandemic, Congress provided direct relief payments to individuals, monthly child tax credit payments to families and increased unemployment benefits. Evictions for nonpayment of rent were also prohibited. These protections have now expired.
Operation Holiday needs 9,000 coats for children
The biggest challenge, Marx said, will be coming up with 9,000 coats for the children. “We need all the coats we can get,” she said. Marx estimates they have 3,500 so far – 2,500 of those coming from Operation Warm, a charitable effort in partnership with Burlington Coat Factory.
That leaves less than two weeks to come up with the other 5,500 coats. You can help by dropping off a child’s coat at the Operation Holiday warehouse, located on the western edge of Towne East Mall, or at any Wichita area Dillons. The site accepts donations of any kind Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Dec. 13. You may also purchase a new children’s coat through Operation Holiday’s Amazon wish list.
Monetary gifts are particularly helpful, Marx said, because Operation Holiday can buy food at reduced cost through its nonprofit networks to get far more food for $1 than you can get at the store. Donations may be made online at the HumanKind Ministries website. The website also offers the opportunity to sign up to become a collection site or to volunteer.
Kim Nunnold is a regular volunteer, packing and taping shut food boxes for families in the warehouse. “I can’t always help financially sometimes, so I think donating like this is just as beneficial,” she said Monday.
No one will be turned away from Operation Holiday
Asked what she most wants Wichitans to know about Operation Holiday, Marx turns serious. “That this can happen to anyone. Through one missed paycheck. Or one round of furloughs. It could be your next-door neighbor.”
HumanKind Ministries stopped taking applications for assistance on Nov. 30. Asked what becomes of families in need who miss the deadline or just show up on distribution days, not having signed up in advance, Marx has good news. No one is turned away, she said. “We set up a help desk during distribution days, and those families can sign up then, and we have them come back on a different day.”
How to help Operation Holiday
Operation Holiday is still seeking donations and volunteers. Complete information is available on the HumanKind Ministries website. Donations of all kinds may be dropped off at the Operation Holiday warehouse located on the west side of Towne East Mall in Wichita, Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Needs include children’s coats, canned and boxed foods, cat and dog food and monetary donations. For information about donating toys to Toys for Tots, contact email@example.com.