You wouldn’t know it walking past their desks. Three teammates with unassuming note pads, color coordinated to-do lists and follow up calls to make. But if you sit quietly nearby and just listen, you’ll hear the cheerful sounds of helpers — Santa’s helpers to be exact.
“Good afternoon, United Christmas Service. Katie speaking, how may I help you?”
That’s Katie Cordell. She is United Way’s United Christmas Service Program Manager. In her second year with the program, Katie coordinates program logistics, including fundraising efforts, recruiting and training partner agencies who refer individuals and families to be served and supervises seasonal staff members. Basically, she lives and breathes Christmas. Speaking of seasonal staff members, from October 30 to December 22, United Christmas Service receives some extra assistance from two very dedicated team members, Wanda Healy and LaTasha Webster. We asked our Santa’s Helpers a few United Christmas Service and holiday inspired questions:
Q: What is the most challenging part of your job?
KC: The short timeline – Christmas comes quickly every year and can’t be pushed back! We serve almost 5,000 households in a six-county region, so it often feels like a race against the clock to train our referral partners, verify all the applications and drum up community support by December 25.
Q: Do you have a memory of a special donor?
KC: Yes! Every year a donor family comes to our offices. They are always dressed to the nines in holiday gear; Santa hats, sweaters, last year they even had light up bulb necklaces for our team. It’s a three-generation experience. Their kids have been coming in since they were little; they’re now in college so I’ll expect to see them in late December once they are off for winter break!
Q: Has there been a family served by United Christmas Service who you’ll never forget?
WH: A few years back a six-year-old boy named Omar called a few days before Christmas. His call stuck out because he was so young, but his mother did not speak English. He asked if their family had been approved to receive assistance that year. Sadly, we had distributed all our vouchers at that time, so I had to turn them away. I could hear the heartbreak in his voice. That night, a large donation arrived, and we were told the next morning that we could process a certain number of applications. I asked if I could process the one for Omar’s family. When I called to share the good news, I could hear him relaying the message to his mom. They were both crying in the background shouting, “thank you” over and over.
Q: What was your favorite Christmas gift as a child?
LW: I didn’t really have one, my mom raised four girls alone, so there were many holidays that we didn’t really have gifts under the tree, if at all. We focused on cooking a great holiday meal, decorating the house and listening to classic Christmas carol albums like “The Temptations” and “Alvin and the Chipmunks.” So, for me, the family traditions that existed were the best gifts.
Q: What is your greatest Christmas wish?
All: That we’re able to serve all the households that are referred to UCS this year! While we’ve been able to serve many individuals and families already, we have approximately 2,000 households still looking for holiday assistance this year through the Merry Money program.
In your best Chipmunks Christmas singing voice …. On the ninth Day of Giving, United Way gave to me, nine special memories, eight Santa hats, seven Honda engines, six more families served, five volunteer hours, four Christmas ornaments, three Merry Money vouchers, two cheerful bothers, and one way to help my community.
The clock is ticking down. Help Katie and the United Christmas Service team make the season merry and bright for the 2,000 households that still need holiday assistance. Make your donation today.