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Online charity tool helps groups limit duplicate giving at Christmas
Charity Tracker aims to ensure as many families as possible get donations for holiday
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Toys are organized at a Toys for Tots donation center in Gainesville, on Friday, Nov. 24, 2017. - photo by David Barnes

Santa Claus checks his list for the naughty and nice, but Hall County charities use a program to make sure names don’t appear twice.

Groups such as Toys for Tots, The Salvation Army and others use Charity Tracker to reduce duplicate services as each program makes plans for holiday toy giving.

“The only thing I will say that has changed since I have been here is that we are much more aware of families that are duplicated. We try to be as respectful as we can and call a family back and say, ‘We see that you’ve signed up in several different places and we need for you to choose,’” said Janet Early, the Ministry of Caring director at First Baptist Church of Gainesville.

Toys for Tots coordinator Kristi Graham said about 15 percent of the names this year were found to be duplicated.

The program allows local charities to share information on families who have applied in an effort to eliminate redundancies.

Because its application window is still open, Toys for Tots usually receives families who missed other deadlines for charity programs. Graham said families seen by social service agencies are recommended to Toys for Tots.

“We try to give them four to five toys, stocking stuffers, books, stuffed animals, games — try to make a diverse kind of goody bag for them,” she said, adding the program last year helped 4,902 children.

Salvation Army and First Baptist Church both have programs called the “Angel Tree,” where a donor provides toys and/or clothes for a child in need.

“Each church member chooses a child, so they may get just the clothing or the toys or buy for the whole child,” Early said.

She said the church is serving 52 families and 116 children.

Lt. Niurka Pena of The Salvation Army said the organization provides for kids who are not adopted through the program.

“The last three years, we have been able to not have that many duplicates,” Pena said.

Early said some families may feel desperate and sign up for as many services as possible, though the charities try to inform them during the initial application process.

“I keep track of who they are so for next year, if I’m hired again for the job, I’ll know who they are and they will also be notified as well,” Graham said.

Keeping the list free of duplicates may also help in a pinch, Early said.

“If we do have a crisis situation that comes up closer to Christmas, I might be able to help that family because ... we might be able to move someone,” Early said.

The Gainesville Jaycees do not use Charity Tracker, focusing on more of the middle-school-age children than younger kids.

“In the last few years, we’ve done some elementary schoolers as well, but our focus is on middle-school-age kids,” Jaycees President Matt Smith said.

The Jaycees meet with school counselors to identify the kids in need.

“I don’t know that we’ve seen a ton of fraud that we’ve ever been aware of, but from meeting and talking with the counselors and other groups, there’s not very many that hit the demographic that we do,” Smith said.

Early said the program at First Baptist Church also put a premium on respecting a family’s holiday tradition by allowing the parents decide how the gifts are given.

“Each family has their own Christmas tradition, and I don’t think it’s our part to change that. Some families give it as a traditional Santa Claus on Christmas morning. Some people have a gathering of their family on Christmas Eve,” Early said.