VIP Interview: Share The Season

By MeLinda Schnyder

A couple with three teenage children needed help paying utility bills because although the mother works full-time, the father has been limited to part-time hours while recovering from an injury. A 58-year-old woman spent her savings to pay for emergency surgery at a cost of $56,000 and then had no money to fix her leaking roof. A husband and wife were both diagnosed with cancer and found they had to choose between buying medication or food.
    These are three of the 145 hardship cases accepted by Share the Season last year. The non-profit program is a joint effort of The Salvation Army, The Wichita Eagle and the Wichita Community Foundation to provide help and hope to the working poor of Wichita during the holiday season.
    “Share the Season is unique because it provides assistance to those who must have employment, but are in a financial hardship,” said Shelly Prichard, president and CEO, Wichita Community Foundation. “It is also a one-time assistance program, meaning that the dollars donated have been spread to thousands of different families for the last 17 years.”
    To be exact, 3,161 families have been helped with $2.9 million in donated funds since 2000. Last year, 1,017 donors gave $223,700 that was shared with 145 carefully screened families, mostly in the form of paying utility or medical bills. Share the Season is already taking applications this year to help those who are in financial need because of illness, job loss or other adversity.

VIP: How did Share the Season start?
SP: One of Wichita Community Foundation’s founders, Mary Lynn Oliver, had the idea to start Share the Season in Wichita after seeing a similar program in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

VIP: How is Share the Season funded?
SP: Share the Season is funded by everyday citizens. In 2015, there were more than 1,000 donors from multiple states. Every gift, no matter the size, makes a difference in this program. Every year, we receive gifts as little as $1 and $5, all the way up to $25,000. We’ve also received donations from past Share the Season recipients, with notes sharing the need of wanting to help others and understanding what it’s like to be in a tough situation.

VIP: How does the program work?
SP: Individuals apply for funding and submit their application for review. The Salvation Army receives the application and conducts interviews with the applicant. If the applicant receives funding, The Salvation Army sends the information to the Wichita Community Foundation, where they cut the check directly to the vendor and issue receipts to all donors. If the applicant is not awarded funding, a denial letter is sent to the applicant. Every day between Thanksgiving and Christmas, The Wichita Eagle publishes a feature story about an anonymous recipient, which encourages donors to consider giving to the program.

VIP: How do givers know the money they donate is being used for the intended purpose?
SP: The payments are made directly to the vendors, such as the bank or utility company.

VIP: How do people apply for help?
SP: People who do not qualify for other indigent programs can apply for one-time assistance through Share the Season. Applications close December 17 at 11:59 p.m. Applications can be filled out online at sharetheseason.org or in-person at The Salvation Army at 350 N. Market.

VIP: How can readers support the program?
SP: Readers can donate to Share the Season online at ShareTheSeason.org or by mail to Share the Season, 301 N. Main, Suite 100, Wichita, KS 67202. If readers know someone who could benefit from Share the Season, applications are open online at ShareTheSeason.org or hard copies are available at The Salvation Army, 350 N. Market. Gifts made to Share the Season can be made in honor or memory of someone. During the daily stories that are published in The Wichita Eagle, readers will find the names of those who have donated in the past day, as well as the dedications of the gifts, which is a great way to remember someone during the holidays.