Pandemic changes playbook, but still plenty of ways to give this holiday season

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- It wasn't the cold that kept people away from City Market this Christmas.

Instead, it was COVID-19, and for the first time in 15 years, Mary Brown and Wil O'Neal were left with an uneventful morning. Last Christmas, their annual showcase of Triangle restaurants, caterers, and businesses, served food and offered toiletries and clothing to more than 300 people in need.

"With COVID-19, you don't know who's surviving and who won't survive," Brown, the event's organizer, told ABC11. "You just don't want to take that chance we're talking about people's lives in jeopardy."

"We were hoping we would've gotten a green light in the fall to do this," O'Neal, Brown's longtime friend and the co-owner of Winston's Grille, added. "The Executive Order makes it so we can't do the gatherings and giveaways."

Brown, however, does have her eye on a new project for the summer: a backpack and school supply drive for the kids.

"The underprivileged children in underprivileged neighborhoods need some joy. I think backpacks and school supplies, someone cooking burgers and hot dogs, ice cream truck. That would be fun for them."

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Indeed, the insatiable need for basic items will remain for the growing number of impoverished North Carolinians, including the more than one million people newly unemployed. While the summer school drive will undoubtedly provide, myriad non-profit and charity organizations continue to recruit volunteers right now to address significant needs during the holidays.

"We still have to feed people," Rob Tart, COO of Durham Rescue Mission, told ABC11. "One of the things where we need help still is at our thrift stores. Just pulling the old garments off the rack and things like that."

According to Tart, certain clothing items are also in greatest need, including jackets and thermal underwear.

"We get pants and shirts but we never get enough thermal underwear to keep them warm."

More than any item or monetary contribution, though, perhaps the greatest gift may be company, be it virtual, socially distant or by old-fashioned pen pal.

"The biggest problem in homelessness is loneliness, and COVID-19 has only exacerbated that for the homeless community."
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The North Carolina Secretary of State's Office annual report found 80% of the $44 million raised in North Carolina went directly towards charities' programs from July 2019 to July 2020.

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