Lee’s Summit Social Services has fulfilled Christmas wishes for more than 25 years.
That’s never been more true than 2017, when more than 900 families visited the organization’s Christmas Store and were able to shop for an assortment of gifts that brightened Christmas morning for local children.
Lee’s Summit Social Services’ store has more than quadrupled in size since its founding in 1992 and more than doubled in last six years alone.. The most recent undertaking marked a more than 20-percent increase from 2016, when the organization brought Christmas cheer to a little more than 700 families.
Several factors contributed to 2017’s significant increase, according to Lee’s Summit Social Services Executive Director Matt Sanning
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“Our city is growing and we’re also increasing our visibility in the community,” he said. “We continually communicate with civic organizations and churches and they refer clients to us.
“The cost of living also continues to increase and wages or fixed incomes aren’t meeting that pace. We see more families where the dollar doesn’t stretch as far and our program can supplement them.”
The Christmas Store, one of the signature community efforts for Lee’s Summit Social Services, is stocked with donations from every corner of the Lee’s Summit and operated by 11 staff members with support from more than 100 volunteers.
During the holidays, parents schedule a visit to shop for gifts for their children during a one-on-one appointment with a staff member or volunteer.
“The volunteers and staff get to know each of their clients,” long-time volunteer Susie Wood said. “We want to give them what they need and want for their children. In many instances, parents bring home gifts their children hoped for yet never thought they were going to get.”
In addition to Christmas gifts, parents have the opportunity to choose a new coat for each of their children, as well as bring home fresh school supplies for when school resumes in January.
The school-supply feature of the Christmas Store was Wood’s idea. A retired elementary school principal who has volunteered at Lee’s Summit Social Services since 2002, Wood understands how important it is for children to have new supplies for the second semester of school.
During her first year as a volunteer, she approached the organization’s founder, Geneva High, and suggested that school supplies be added to their Christmas offerings. High agreed and school supplies have been a key element of the Christmas Store ever since.
“Lee’s Summit Social Services will help your child,” High said. “Every year that goes by, more people need help and more people trust us. We’ve been looked at as an affluent community but many don’t realize there are many, many residents who need help.”
“In the past, Lee’s Summit has not traditionally highlighted the underserved,” he said. “There was a general conception that we don’t have a poverty problem or people in need. But, the great thing about the Lee’s Summit community is that they will mobilize and come together when they know there is something that needs to be done.”
Through its multi-faceted programs, Lee’s Summit Social Services provides a wide array of basic necessities to assist local families in need, including the elderly and those with special needs persons, not just at the holidays, but throughout the year.
“Our mission is to help clients reach self-sufficiency through numerous support mechanisms,” Sanning said. “The most basic, fundamental resources we offer are food, utility and rental assistance, and clothing. We do our best to respond to those four basic necessities.”
Each summer, Lee’s Summit Social Services hosts a Back-to-School program at which children can select new shoes, socks, and other personal items plus receive a backpack with filled with all of the required school supplies.
Lee’s Summit Social Services also operates a thrift store and food pantry among other services.
In addition to providing basic necessities for Lee’s Summit residents, the organization recently added a new tier of service, which is preventive in nature.
From vehicle and home repairs, to assistance with insurance paperwork and car inspections, Lee’s Summit Social Services provides help that allows clients maintain their day-to-day lives more efficiently and comfortably.
”We have created a deep network of volunteers for these services,” Sanning said. “We know who our contacts are and who we can go to. We have people who specialize in construction, car repair, and other areas, so we can keep the costs low or at no-cost.”
Aside from community volunteers, profits from Lee’s Summit Social Services’ popular thrift store are circled back to those they serve. All donations stay within the Lee’s Summit community to assist residents in need.
This past Christmas, one of these donations was particularly poignant and touching for Sanning.
“A woman called who wanted to come and make a monetary donation,” he said. “She told me when she was a child, LSSS was the reason she had a meal and gifts at Christmas. She said, ‘I didn’t know what was happening as a child, but when I got older, I understood the impact your agency had on our lives.’”
Sometimes the feedback doesn’t come for twenty years, Sanning reflected: “This one gave us chills and recharged the batteries. Fatigue does set in and to have someone say something like that lets us know we are doing good work and it is beneficial and meaningful to others.”
“I’m so proud and adamant about LSSS,” she said. “I know my fellow volunteers and staff have such caring hearts each and every day, not just on special occasions. You go home tired and exhausted from working and volunteering, but you walk with a lighter step knowing you shared this experience with people who are so grateful.”