During this time of year, it's common to give back to those in need, whether it's donating to the local food bank, or throwing in a few extra dollars to the red Salvation Army buckets outside of stores. While every little bit helps, those who work inside the offices of small non-profits, new and old, will tell you that there's a demand for charity all year long.
Pennie Lucas has been involved with Caring and Sharing of South Walton for 13 years. She first started out as a volunteer until becoming the director in 2007. In the past decade, Lucas said the need for help has risen drastically.
"There was not the demand that there is today," she said. "There used to be just one person working in the pantry; today we have six. Some days we'll see as many as 76 people, and that's just the morning."
Most of Caring and Sharing clients are single mothers. Some are seasonal workers who rely on tourism and good weather to pay bills.
"For those in the restaurant business, during the summer when their hours are cut, they can't pay bills and it takes so long to get state benefits that work starts up again," Lucas said. "It's a catch-22, it really is."
As benefits such as food stamps have been slashed, Caring and Sharing comes in to bridge the gap, as Lucas said, by providing food, clothing, furniture and monetary help for utilities. Operating out of its thrift store in Santa Rosa Beach, the 18-year-old non-profit serves individuals and families throughout north and south Walton County.
"If you live in Sandestin or on 30A, you may not have any idea what's across the street," Lucas said. "We help so many families in this area. If we weren't here I don't know what these families would do."
Caring and Sharing has doled out 9,287 bags of food so far this year as of the end of October. Lucas keeps these statistics on hand for when she gives presentations at local churches. Without a website, a lot of the organization's advertising is spread through churches.
Beyond bags of food, Lucas and her small staff of six help assist families with clothing and furniture donations that come to their thrift store. Last month, donations of clothes were given to 40 families, which is high, Lucas said.
"We've had a few cold mornings, and children can't wait at the bus stop early in the morning with just a t-shirt," she said.
While Caring and Sharing does receive some government funding, it is the thrift store that serves as a main source of income.
"The truck goes out every day, but Thursday to pick up donated items," Lucas said. "And a lot of the clothing we get still has the tags on them."
Caring and Sharing makes the holidays a little bit brighter for its clients through its Angel Tree program as well as providing Thanksgiving meals, turkey and all.
With the Angel Tree program, children who receive benefits such as Medicaid or free lunches are sponsored by individuals or businesses. So far 335 children are signed up for the Angel Tree program, but Lucas is anticipating a last-minute increase.
Volunteers are starting to fill Thanksgiving food bags for Walton County families. Bay Area Food Bank donated 226 turkeys to the cause.
"It's obviously not going to be enough, but it's a tremendous help," Lucas said.
When it comes to reminding the public of the need for support, she reminds them "Remember, when you are at the grocery store, just one extra can will help."