Making the Holidays Merry and Bright for Damien Center Clients

Imagine making $735 a month, then paying $550 for rent. Now you have $185 to cover all your other expenses – transportation, groceries, childcare, medications etc. What if you were dealing with this during the holidays? Not only would it be nearly impossible to purchase and prepare a nice holiday dinner, but chances are you and your family would wake up Christmas morning without presents under the tree.


For many Central Indiana families, this is reality. Thanks in part to United Way’s United Christmas Service, thousands of people living in poverty won’t have to go without this holiday season.


United Christmas Service partners with caseworkers from a variety of nonprofits to identify individuals and families who can use a little extra support and kindness over the holidays. The Damien Center, a United Way Partner Agency that empowers people affected by HIV/AIDS to live with dignity, refers clients to United Christmas Service year after year.


The Damien Center offers a comprehensive approach to HIV/AIDS care and prevention through a robust continuum of care – testing and prevention, medical services, care coordination, referral services, counseling and housing. These wrap-around services are provided at no cost, and with over 90% of their clients living below the poverty line, this community resource is truly life-saving.


At the Damien Center every caseworker can recommend up to 50 clients for the United Christmas Service Merry Money voucher. With Merry Money, individuals can shop at several big-box stores for household necessities, toys or food. Individuals who qualify receive $30 in Merry Money and a family of four receives $120 in Merry Money. According to the Damien Center staff, the United Christmas Service program is a partnership for which clients are grateful.


“The United Christmas Service voucher program is so nice for our clients because it gives them autonomy,” said Traci Johnson, Damien Center Housing Program Manager. “They get the opportunity to pick out gifts for themselves or their loved ones and the best part is there are no strings attached.”


Let’s face it, the holidays aren’t the most wonderful time of the year for many people – especially those who are dealing with an illness, family estrangement or extreme poverty. Oftentimes when people who are more fortunate choose to be charitable, they think first about kids who might not receive a visit from Santa. And while United Christmas Service certainly addresses this need, everyone deserves to have a happy holiday.


“People tend to think about families with young children who need help during the holidays. We serve people in this demographic – many of the women in our housing program have three to five children,” said Johnson. “But what about single adult men? Don’t they deserve something nice for Christmas too?”


If you’ve been thinking about how you can lend a helping hand this holiday season, please consider donating to United Christmas Service. You’ll give people in our community the gift of independence to choose what to purchase for themselves and their families with their very own Merry Money.


Ready to sing? On the third Day of Giving, United Way gave to me….three Merry Money vouchers, two thankful brothers and one way to help my community.

Help us thank the Damien Center for their years of support by sharing this story or making your United Christmas Service donation today at

Stay tuned tomorrow for the Fourth Day of Giving.