Delaware County has consistently boasted one of Ohio's lowest unemployment rates, but those statistics have a dark side: Many of those working are not making enough money to get by.

That's according to People in Need, the county nonprofit that's planning its 64th annual Holiday Clearing House, a series of events to be held in December.

"In my experience, people think the county is very affluent," said Colleen Kelly Laich, People in Need's volunteer coordinator for senior services, but PIN helps fill a "tremendous need" in Delaware County that is under-reported.

Executive Director Randy Bournique said most of those receiving PIN assistance have jobs, but are underemployed with low- or minimum-wage jobs, or working only part time, often with no benefits.

"They can't create a (financial) cushion for times when things aren't going so well," he said. "We see a lot of that. A car breakdown, they break their glasses -- they have to make choices about what they can spend money on."

As a group, Laich said, their plight has been getting worse.

"In the last nine years, the need (for assistance) has increased substantially," she said. Many county residents are working but can't always cover the expenses of housing, food and medical care, she added.

Bournique said while the county has a low unemployment rate, its population of nearly 200,000 means many need assistance.

The Holiday Clearing House responds to the need through an outpouring of community generosity and the help of hundreds of volunteers, he said.

That generosity is channeled by local companies, service clubs, student groups and individuals, he said.

"We get a lot of community support. It's pretty wonderful, really," he said.

During the clearing house, PIN collects new toys, new outdoor winter clothing, food, toiletries and money. Donations will be accepted through Dec. 7 at the Delaware County Fairgrounds Coliseum, 236 Pennsylvania Ave., and at Delaware city and county fire stations.

In addition to home deliveries to some seniors, Holiday Clearing House events are held at the Coliseum building.

On distribution day, always held on the second Sunday of December, clients are given a designated time when they can come to the Coliseum to make their holiday gift selections and pick up food. Escorts guide the clients through the process and assist them with their gift and clothing selections.

This year, that will happen from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Dec. 9.

Events that will precede the distribution will include: a food drive and youth service day, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 1; family food packing day, 9 a.m. to noon Dec. 8; and clearing house sorting and quality control, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Dec. 3-7.

PIN said a new toy shop will be set up so parents can select toys suitable for their children. This allows the parents to be more involved in providing gifts for their kids.

Each family is given a food order that provides a three-day supply for every family member. Each child is "adopted" by a local church or business to receive gifts from the adopting organization. Outerwear is collected to provide each child with a new coat. The clearing house also provides gifts and food for seniors.

Last year, the clearing house served 2,000 adults and children, and was aided by 1,133 volunteers who donated more than 3,794 hours. They packed more than 1,000 bags of groceries in three hours. Food and gifts were donated to 278 senior shut-ins.

Bournique became PIN director this year, succeeding Kevin Crowley, who died in March. Bournique has been involved with the clearing house for 25 years; he joined the PIN staff in 2012, bringing with him grant-writing skills he earlier used as a state of Ohio employee.

Laich said the looks on the faces of clearing-house recipients "is phenomenal. Their gratitude is so heartfelt. It's an absolutely humbling experience for the volunteers."

For more information on People in Need, visit delawarepeopleinneed.org.

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