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Spotsylvania aid agency struggles to provide Christmas for needy residents
Date published: 12/8/2009
Robert Newton can't stand to see a hungry child.
In the past 25 years, he has seen quite a few. They come to the emergency aid office he runs, when their parents ask for help.
Sometimes they've gone days without eating. Some have eaten soup straight out of a can, sitting on the floor of the Spotsylvania Emergency Concerns Association.
And now, with Christmas coming, Newton hopes to provide holiday dinners for the hundreds of children coming for help.
But the man who has spent a quarter of a century giving out food needs to get more turkeys and trimmings to meet his goal.
Newton had just retired in 1984 when his wife approached with a new project.
She worked at Spotsylvania County's Department of Social Services. Her boss wanted a place for people who fell through the cracks of the social services system.
Director Loraine Lemoine thought this new group could give groceries to people waiting for food stamps and give money to those facing imminent eviction.
Newton said yes right away.
And the project quickly took over his life.
That group became SECA, a volunteer-run place for needy county residents. Lemoine and extension agent Rebecca Taylor started SECA. Newton and a group of loyal volunteers made it work.
In the beginning, the group helped about 10 families each month, providing emergency financial help and groceries.
Last month, SECA helped 173 families--an all-time high, Newton said.
He expects to help even more this Christmas. He hasn't had time to count the applications for holiday help, but the file is thick and growing fast.
Newton plans to give out turkey dinners and toys Dec. 20.
"I don't know what we're going to do," he said. "They're still coming in every day we're open to sign up."
But he remains hopeful the agency will be able to provide Christmas for needy county residents.
The organization raises money through a thrift shop next to the office. Recently, nearly a dozen people browsed the store while others waited in line to receive emergency help.
A group of children played in the tiny toy section. Newton stopped by for high-fives and hugs before returning to the office.
Looking at the children, Newton mused: "It used to be only elderly people coming in. Now we see mostly families with young children."
Amy Flowers Umble: 540/735-1973