Tuesday, December 15, 2009

It's a Winter Wonderland Down to the Stretch

St. Margaret’s Center

A Catholic Charities Program since 1987
10217 Inglewood Ave., Lennox, California 90304


Contact: Mary Agnes Erlandson
Phone: 310.672.2208
Fax: 310.672.1841
Email: maerlandson@ccharities.org

Over 1,000 children and their parents share the dignity of Christmas giving

Inglewood, CA -- December 19, 2009
Hollywood Park will be the site for the St. Margaret’s Center 22nd Annual Winter Wonderland for over 450 pre-screened families living at or below the poverty level. On Saturday, December 19th, with weeks of preparation, 300 volunteers will provide a day of Christmas activities for families in need. The day-long event which runs from 9:00am-6:00pm is unlike other events in that it reaches out to the entire family.

St. Margaret’s Center seeks to spread Christmas joy by directly involving parents in the gift giving process. Upon entering, children are whisked away by friendly elf-like volunteers to enjoy games, prizes, arts & crafts, refreshments, live entertainment, and meet with Santa himself. Meanwhile, parents will be guided through gift rooms by their personal shopper and allowed to choose gifts for each child. Volunteers will then wrap the gifts before parents are reunited with their children. “The beauty of this program is that parents choose the gifts for their child. They become the givers,” said Mary Agnes Erlandson, St. Margaret’s Center Director.

Families who utilize the services provided by St. Margaret’s Center go through a qualifying process that guarantees the gifts will go to the neediest families in the community. “The process itself is encouraging to all of the sponsors and makes it the ideal program for us to participate in,” says Norm Cravens, Hollywood Park Community Relations Director, “Ms. Erlandson has succeeded in making this an event that accomplishes what the holiday spirit is truly about.” After outgrowing former locations, Hollywood Park Racetrack opened its doors to this event in 2002 and continues to be one of the program’s biggest supporters.

Other community agencies including the Centinela Freeman Medical Staff, The Today Show, Doorking, Inc., Hollywood Park Casino and the Inglewood Police Department have also discovered this worthwhile program and generously lend their support. With a magnificent sleigh provided by the officers of the Inglewood Police Department, Santa Claus and his police escorts will be on hand to kick off the event at 9:00 am.

St. Margaret’s Center, a program of Catholic Charities since 1987, provides relief, dignity and support to low-income persons in crisis and assists individuals through case management and skills development to become more self-sufficient and achieve greater economic security.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Preparation and Set-Up Information

Dates: December 15th - 18th
Time: 9:00a.m. - 5:00p.m. (o.k to help out just a.m. or just p.m.)
Location: Hollywood Park Racetrack


Hollywood Park Racetrack is located at Prairie Ave. and Century Blvd. in Inglewood.  Enter the racetrack at the Hardy St. entrance at Prairie (the first signal north of Century).  Drive all the way up to the racetrack, make a left, and drive around to the employee entrance.  There’s a guard shack there.  Park in that lot.  Tell the guard that you are working on the St. Margaret’s party.  Walk up to tunnel 5.  You’ll walk up the staircase in between tunnels 5 & 4, up to the first floor.

One or more of the following coordinators will be there for the prep work at all times:  Nancy Cravens, Mary Agnes Erlandson, or Florence Guerrero.  If you have any questions before the prep day, you can call St. Margaret’s Center at 310-672-2208, and ask for Mary Agnes.  During the prep days if you have any questions/problems, please call Mary Agnes on her cell (310-508-3841) , Nancy on her cell (310-780-8219) or Florence on her cell (310-259-7566).

Remember to dress warmly, and bring lunch/water, etc.  The racetrack will be closed Tuesday, so there won’t be any food or drinks to purchase there.

We will be sorting and bagging toys, preparing goody bags, and decorating during the prep days.

Thank  you for your help!!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

St. Margaret's Center - Programs and Services

St. Margaret's Center, a program of Catholic Charities of Los Angeles Inc., has served low-income and homeless families since 1987.  The Center provides a comprehensive range of emergency and supportive services to more than 10,000 unduplicated individuals annually in the Los Angeles "L.A.X." area, primarily those living in the cities or streets of Lennox and surrounding communities.

St. Margaret's Center's mission has remained the same throughout its history, but the Center's programs have grown and evolved to respond to the needs of the community.  St. Margaret's Center's programs target individuals and families who live at or below the poverty level, and are administered by a paid staff of three, and an average of 40 volunteers.  Programs are offered in both English and Spanish, and are free of charge, with the exception of nominal fees for immigration and counseling services.  Two target groups have developed over the years as the Center's staff has become aware of their unmet needs:  Spanish-speaking families, and homeless individuals.  The Center provides assistance, though, to anyone in need, regardless of the person's race, national origin or religious affiliation.

St. Margaret's Center’s goal is to provide relief, dignity and support to low-income persons in crisis and to assist individuals through case management and skills development to become more self-sufficient and to achieve economic security.  St. Margaret's Center's services include:

  • Emergency Food:  Monthly groceries for low-income families (@200/week), and sack lunches for homeless persons (@250/week) every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
  • Information and Referral:  Information and referrals for free or low-cost services and programs, e.g., legal, medical, housing, employment, government programs. Advocacy with government assistance programs.
  • Translation:  Assistance in filling out simple forms, mail, telephone calls, etc.
  • Emergency Shelter Voucher:  Short-term emergency housing for eligible homeless Inglewood families and individuals with special needs.
  • Rent Assistance Program:  Assistance with move-in costs for eligible homeless Inglewood households, and funding for Inglewood residents who are seniors or disabled.
  • Homeless Supplies:  Hygiene kits, blankets, diapers, clothing and bus tokens, as available, to low-income persons.
  • Counseling Services:  Free and low-cost counseling for individuals, couples and families provided by a licensed therapist, Mondays and Wednesdays.
  • Food Stamp Application Assistance:  Free assistance with filling out the food stamp application and follow-up case tracking and troubleshooting.  D.P.S.S. worker on site for this program, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
  • Health Insurance Application Assistance:  Outreach worker from Community Health Councils on site to help families apply for low-cost and free health insurance programs. Tuesdays and Thursdays.
  • Vision Screening:  Free eye exams provided quarterly by the U.C.L.A./Jules Stein Mobile Eye Clinic.
  • Mammograms:  Free mammograms for low-income, uninsured women over 40.  Every other month, provided by Mobile Mammography Screening, Inc. 
  • Utility Assistance:  Payment up to $100 for Gas and Edison bills when program activated.
  • Mailing Address:  For homeless persons, use of the Center for their mailing address, and the Center's telephone and FAX machines for important calls/business (e.g., for employment, medical and legal needs).
  • Immigration Processing:  Low-cost immigration processing every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday by appointment.
  • ESLClasses:  Small intensive classes, Monday through Friday, designed to provide beginning level English language fluency, provided by Centinela Valley Adult School.
  • Citizenship Classes:  Classes Monday through Thursday afternoons for those who are preparing for their citizenship interview, provided by Southwest College.
  • Literacy Tutoring:  One-on-one tutoring for basic English literacy provided by volunteers.
  • Job Referrals:  Employment readiness and job and training program referrals.
  • Educational Workshops:  Community workshops are held periodically with topics of interest for low-income families, e.g., health, nutrition, employment, money management, public benefits, etc.
  • Christmas Program:  Day-long party with new toys for children, food for 1000 children and their parents.

A community center such as St. Margaret's offers a natural avenue to provide a range of services to poverty-level families.  Over the past 22 years persons with multiple needs have come to the Center for services and referrals for food, shelter, legal, medical, employment, housing, education and social services. Currently, about 500 persons come into St. Margaret's Center each week for one or more of its programs.  They are all low- income, with the majority living below the federal poverty level.

One of the Center’s objectives for 2008-2009 was to re-locate the Center to a more adequate facility.  This objective was met in November 2008 with a new location less than one mile away. Additional space has been vitally needed in order to expand programs to continue to meet the needs of the community.  With the current economic downturn in 2009, clientele and services have increased by 20%.

Calling All Christmas Volunteers

St. Margaret’s Center is seeking volunteers and donors (see attached list) for our annual Christmas Program that will take place on December 19, 2009 at Hollywood Park Racetrack. 1,000 low-income children and their families will participate.

Volunteer Hours & Days:
December 15th 16th, 17th & 18th : 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (partial days o.k.) at Hollywood Park Racetrack for:
  • Sorting toys
  • Preparing Goody Bags
  • Decorating
  • Helping with set-up

December 19th – Christmas Program
3 shifts available: 8:30-12:00, 11:30-3:00, 2:30-6:00

Please note: You must pre-register to volunteer.

If you have any questions or need additional information email stmargaretscenter@gmail.com or call Mary Agnes at 310-672-2208.

Volunteer Job Descriptions

Four hundred fifty families will participate in St. Margaret’s Center’s Christmas Program – 2009.The families are low-income; most live below the poverty level, and reside in the airport area of Los Angeles (primarily Inglewood-Lennox-Hawthorne). About 70% are Spanish-speaking, although many of these are bilingual, and most of the older children speak English. Most of the families regularly receive food and other services at St. Margaret’s, and have applied for the Christmas Program. Each family will receive a $25 food certificate, and three toys per child 13 and under.

The program will take place at the Hollywood Park Racetrack in Inglewood, at Century Bl. and Prairie Ave. Enter at Prairie Ave. and Arbor Vitae St. (two blocks north of Century) at Gate 2. Park as close as you can to the main building, and follow the signs to the St. Margaret’s Center event. (There is a separate gate to enter the program – do not enter at the main racetrack gate). The program will take place on the first floor, between tunnels 4 and 5. There is a glass door and staircase between the two tunnels. Check in at the Volunteer tableoutside,to sign in and receive your volunteer badge. Note: Dress warmly! The first floor is much cooler than the 4th floor where we previously held the event.

Fifty+families will be arriving each hour between 9:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. After registering, the families will take the elevator or stairs up to the 1st floor. The parents will be escorted through toy rooms to choose the toys, and will proceed to the wrapping area to have their presents wrapped. In the meantime, the children will be entertained on the other side of the room with music, games, facepainting, arts and crafts, and a visit with Santa. The families, as well as the volunteers, can enjoy hot dogs, popcorn, lemonade and cookies throughout the day. We anticipate about 1,800 family members, and over 200 volunteers at the program.

Volunteer Job Descriptions

3 shifts:
8:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
11:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.
2:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

The morning shift involves a half hour of preparation and orientation before the families arrive. The last shift includes a half-hour of clean-up. The half- hour overlap between shifts is for volunteers to train the next shift of volunteers—
please try to cover all aspects/nuances of your job in your training.

Families will be given an invitation to arrive at the party at ½ hour intervals, between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. No one will be admitted earlier than his/her scheduled time. St. Margaret’s Center staff and volunteers will check participants’ I.D.’s at the Registration Desk, give them their name tags (with their scheduled time printed on them), grocery certificates, and their applications to take upstairs. Check to see if the family participated last year (it will say on the back of their application); if not, and they are also unfamiliar with the program, explain to them how it works. Give them a grocery gift card and tell them to keep it in a safe place. Each child will receive a wrist band that they will exchange for a goody bag as they leave the event. After registering, families will take the elevator or stairs up to the 1st floor, and will descend the same way when they leave.
"Escort I's" will greet the families, take the application and clipboard, a pen, and large plastic bags for the toys, and drop off the children with volunteers in the children's area to the right.They will then guide the parents through the toy rooms to the left. Escorts should have a good time with the parents---chat with them, and help them feel comfortable with leaving their children, and picking out their toys. As the parents choose their toys (one "A" toy and two "B" toys per child. The “A” tables are marked with a “Boy” or “Girl” sign; the “B” table has no sign), the Escort will check off the child's name. (Note: checking off the names is very important!) If the parent says that there is another child that's not on their application, or nieces/nephews, grandchildren, etc. do not let them take more toys. Each family has been screened, and they themselves gave us the information on family members. If they are insistent, or there is any other problem, please see Mary Agnes of St. Margaret's Center, or any other event supervisor. After the parent has all the toys, the Escort will take them to the Wrapping Room to have their gifts wrapped. Some of the parents have never had the experience of having their gifts wrapped for them, and may seem hesitant. You will need to encourage them. (If they are in a hurry, they don't have to have them wrapped). The Escort will then leave the parent, and take the application back to the entrance, and get the next application.

The volunteers in the Toy Rooms will display approximately 20 toys each on both the "Girl" Table and the "Boy" Table (except for the 0-3 year olds, which are unisex). There will also be a "B" table that will be unisex. The "A" toys are more expensive toys. If you notice a toy in the "A" bag or box of lesser value (generally less than about $10), you can move it to the "B" Table. Make sure that there are a variety of toys, and continuously put out new toys as needed. (NOTE: most of the bags have an assortment of toys, but there are some boxes with the same toys. Make sure to include these as well, throughout the day). Don't put out all the bigger items in the morning, in fairness to the afternoon crowd!). If a parent wants a toy for their child that's on the other gender's table, that is o.k. Don't put more than 2 or 3 of the exact same item on the table at a time. Some of the toys may have to be explained to the parent (or to the Escort, for translation to the parent), as they may not be familiar with them. If a parent chooses a gift bag with a gift certificate in it, check the bag to see that the certificate is there before the parent leaves the room. Toy room volunteers can have fun with their job by acting as "salespersons", talking up the particular virtues of the toys, with the parents. Parents without an escort (escorts always have clipboards) may not receive toys or exchange toys!

The volunteers in the Wrapping Room will wrap the gifts. Make sure to use the least amount of paper necessary, to ensure that we have enough for the entire day. Have the parents write out the gift tag while the present is being wrapped. If the parent can't write, and is monolingual Spanish, find someone who is bilingual to make out the gift tags, if you aren't sure how to write the names. The parents can then put the presents back in the bags. Signal the coordinator of the wrapping room when you are finished. Volunteers should also continuously monitor the cleanliness of the wrapping area, throwing away scraps of paper, paper tubes, etc., so that the atmosphere is clean and festive for the parents.

Supervisors/Children's Party will monitor the auditorium to ensure that it does not become too congested or exceed the maximum occupancy rate. They will help move families out of the auditorium after they've participated in the activities. They will know which families have been there the longest by the time on their nametags. If the families are not moving out quickly enough, they will communicate with the volunteers at the registration desk to suspend admitting more families until others have left. They will check to see that families aren’t “parked” for long periods of time at the eating tables. They will let Nancy, Mary Agnes, or Florence know if more volunteers are needed for any of the children's activities. This system will allow flexibility, instead of having a set time for all the families to arrive and leave. This is important as some families will move through quickly (e.g., those with only 1 or 2 children, or those parents arriving without any children) and others will take longer.

The Gatekeepers at the entrance to the children's party will match up the younger children with Buddies who will stay with the children and take them to the various activities while their parents are away, and help get them food.  Keep siblings together. It is important to make the children feel comfortable. (Remember that some of the children, especially the younger ones, may speak only Spanish---if you can't communicate with them, find a bilingual volunteer to help out!) Watch out for younger children to make sure that they are not suffering separation anxiety!..If a child is inconsolable, you will need to have an adult volunteer take him/her to find the parent. Watch for the children’s belongings (sweaters, coats, etc.) so that they don’t get lost. The buddies will stay with the children until their parents return, and take them to each activity: arts & crafts, Santa, refreshments, games, magician, facepainting, etc. Encourage children to throw away their trash after eating. Don’t leave the children until they are re-united with their parents. Buddies will also alternate as Escort 2’s, who will take parents from the wrapping room when they are finished, and guide them back to their children. They can stay in the back or sides of the room with the bags of toys while the parents find their children. Ask the parents if they would like to help themselves to refreshments. If the children are not finished, leave the toys with the parents, and tell them to keep the bags with them at all times.

The volunteers at the Children's Party can do face-painting, help with arts and crafts, read Christmas stories, and assist with refreshments and games. Also, please help with ensuring that the room is free of trash from the refreshments.

Refreshments will be provided behind the bar. Volunteers will heat up the hot dogs, make popcorn, serve drinks and any other foods that are available, and replenish the condiments. Volunteers should also monitor the area in front of the bar for cleanliness, mop up spills, etc. Will notify supervisors when supplies are low. Volunteers will ensure that family members receive only one of each item.

Hospitality Crew will monitor the children’s party, especially the food area, and including the hallway and arts and crafts room for cleanliness. Volunteers will have brooms and other materials at their disposal, and will contact the Hospitality Coordinator when the trash should be emptied, etc. The area should look as sparkling for the afternoon kids as the first arrivals in the morning.

Goody Bag Table will be downstairs at the exit as families leave. Each child will receive a goody bag, and will choose his/her own book as they leave the party with their parents. Two volunteers will be stationed at the goody bag table to distribute them, replenish the table, and remove the wrist band of each child that receives one.

Security will guard the entrances to the stadium to make sure that the children do not go into that area. It is a racing day, and the races will be going on throughout the afternoon. If the children would like to go closer to see the track, they must be with their parents. They will not be allowed by themselves, or with a volunteer. Security will also help downstairs at registration, at the stairwells and at the elevator.

The restrooms are located at the bottom of the staircase, on the side of the room closest to the track.  Children will only be allowed in the restroom area with a parent or volunteer. 

Volunteers at the Exit Door will check the nametags to make sure the children and parents match, and will help escort the families out to the elevator or down the stairs.

There will be a volunteer check-in desk, and all volunteers will wear hats and a volunteer nametag. Volunteers can help themselves to refreshments at any time, and should make sure to take breaks when tired. Talk to Mary Agnes, Nancy, or Florence if you need another volunteer to fill in while you take the break. Two Volunteer Coordinators will direct volunteers to appropriate activities, and maintain the sign-in sheet.