2022 brought an unexpected career change for Heather, but an Operation Holiday partner has helped her get through it.
“I lost my job last year, in November, right before Christmas. I pretty much figured I could get by, through the end of the year,” she said.
“My son’s birthday is also in the beginning of December, and then it’s Christmas, and there was nothing available. You figure, ‘I’ll find something in January or February,’ and there was nothing available, and then it’s March, and you’re like ‘I’ve gotta do something.’”
Heather (whose name has been changed to protect her identity) had worked in the real estate industry for almost 30 years, until that sudden and unexpected career change. While searching for jobs, she learned of Manna on Main Street’s Common Grounds training program, an eight-week course that teachers kitchen skills to those looking for a new path.
“I learned more about the knife skills, and the high-end (food) production, and just being in a production kitchen. And I learned a lot more about what they do,” she said.
“I was shocked. I couldn’t imagine the amount of food and everything that comes in. The amount of people that come in, to go do grocery shopping, and get food, and pick up a meal. There’s no questions asked, you just go online, and you can get a meal,” she said.
“Any help they can get, people 100 percent need it. There’s more people out there than you realize, honestly. To see the amount of people that would come into that place every day, for grocery shopping, just for a meal, the seniors at lunchtime, and then all of the Meals on Wheels prep we would do — it’s a lot of work, and a lot of food that goes in and out of that place.”
Her son turns 15 between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and has been “easygoing” through the past year, but “I’m sure he does get worried; he’s a teenager,” Heather said. Her boyfriend has helped, and the family has found ways to make ends meet through a combination of his job, her side hustles like working for a delivery service, and help from their families.
“We always figure things out. We were very close to getting booted out of our house, but we always figure it out,” she said.
What would she tell herself from a year ago? “Keep your chin up. Keep on going. Times are tough. You can feel like it’s your worst day one day, and then the next day could be your best. I’m just lucky to have a great family,” she said.
It’s for families like Heather working to better their situation despite tough times that Operation Holiday exists. The program was started in 1991 at The Mercury in Pottstown to help families going through tough times provide something for their children during the holidays. The mission of the program is to make sure there is food on the table and gifts under the tree when Christmas morning comes.
Now in its 33rd year, the program has served thousands of families throughout Berks, Chester and Montgomery counties, expanding its reach in recent years to include communities served by Reading Eagle, The Times Herald, The Reporter, and Daily Local News.
More than $91,000 in donations last year provided food and gifts for 451 children and 199 families, plus cash donations to food pantries in Berks, Chester and Montgomery counties.
This year, Operation Holiday has partnered with 19 agencies in the tri-county area. Agencies have referred 165 families with 419 children for gifts and food.
There is no overhead with Operation Holiday and all funds stay local. Funds are collected and audited in a non-profit foundation account managed by staff of MediaNews Group who volunteer their time.
Gift cards to area grocery stores are provided to each family for food, so that they can purchase the fixings for a holiday dinner as well as staples for the pantry. Weis Markets is a partner with Operation Holiday and has assisted with food purchases and gift cards.
Gift cards for every child in the program 16 years of age or younger are purchased through Boscov’s and distributed in partnership with the referring agencies so that families can purchase gifts of their choice.
Operation Holiday does not accept families who have not been referred by an agency. Operation Holiday is funded solely by reader contributions. All contributions are tax deductible.
HOW TO DONATE
Online donations are being accepted in a secure portal in partnership with TriCounty Community Network. Visit https://tcnetwork.org/ and click on the link for Operation Holiday.
Contributions can be mailed with checks payable to Operation Holiday to PO Box 1181, Pottstown PA 19464; The Reporter, 307 Derstine Ave., Lansdale PA 19446; Operation Holiday, 1440 Lacrosse Ave., Reading, PA 19607.
The names of all contributors are published in the participating newspapers as donations are received. Please note whether a contribution should be designated as anonymous or given in tribute or in memory of someone.
Source: Berkshire mont