Top 3 ways to spread holiday cheer in Martin County

United Way of MC spreads holiday cheer for families facing hard times: here’s how you can help

November 21, 2019

The holidays are quickly approaching and for many children, presents are not guaranteed. With Martin County’s poverty level hovering at 10 percent and an additional 28 percent struggling to afford basic needs, it won’t be a Merry Christmas for an alarming number of local families.

For more than 30 years, United Way of Martin County has spread holiday cheer to thousands of less fortunate children through the United Way Holiday Project.

With help from hundreds of volunteers, United Way transforms the Martin County Fairgrounds to Santa's Workshop to help bring Christmas joy to local families in need. As the local coordinating agency for Toys for Tots, United Way collects toys from 100 Toys for Tots collection sites, then rallies its volunteers to sort and categorize toys so that parents “shop” for toys specific to their children’s interest during a two-day distribution event. Participating families, who are referred and screened by nonprofit organizations and schools, are also provided with a holiday meal.

“We live in a very giving community,” said United Way of Martin County CEO Carol G. Houwaart-Diez. “Now is the time for people to pitch in and help. Our greatest fear is that we won’t have enough toys and meals for all of the families we’ll serve this year.  We are encouraging people to shop early so that every toy can be counted and sorted in time for distribution.”

Top 3 ways to spread cheer in Martin County

1. Volunteer

The volunteers behind the United Way Holiday Project spend weeks planning and preparing for the distribution event, which serves nearly 3,000 children in Martin County. Volunteers are needed to sort and categorize toys in advance of toy distribution so that parents can easily "shop" for toys specific to their children's interest. This is the perfect activity for a civic group or family.

Hundreds of volunteers are also needed to assist during the two-day distribution event on December 18 and 19, 2019. To volunteer during distribution, individuals must be ages 18 and up and can serve in 3-hour shifts as personal shoppers, directing traffic, distributing food, and more.

2. Donate a new, unwrapped toy

United Way will be accepting new, unwrapped toys at Toys for Tots collections sites until Thursday, December 12th. All toys collected in Martin County, stay in Martin County to make the holidays bright for local children.

3. Give a financial gift to cover the cost of a gift card, bike or holiday meal

Monetary donations are welcomed. “Monetary donations allow us the opportunity to purchase toys where we have the largest shortages,” Houwaart-Diez said.  Shortfalls are typically for children 13 to 15 years of age because this is the most challenging group to shop for. “It’s heartbreaking to see bare tables for the older age groups, so this year we will be providing gift cards for teens -- but we need donations to make that happen,” Houwaart-Diez added.

United Way is also conducting a bike drive in partnership with Zweben Law Group. The goal of the bike drive is to cover the cost of 300 bikes to be given to children in need during distribution. A $60 donation to the effort covers the cost of a bike and helmet thanks to a partnership with Beyond Bikes. “There’s nothing more magical for a child than waking up on Christmas morning to find a shiny new bicycle underneath the tree and through our efforts we hope 300 children will be able to experience that magic,” said Gene Zweben, Zweben Law Group.

A financial contribution can also cover the cost of a holiday meal that is provided to families during distribution.

For more information about the nearby collection sites, volunteer opportunities or to make a donation, please visit 

About United Way of Martin County

United Way of Martin County’s mission is to improve lives by mobilizing the caring power of our community. Since 1972, the United Way has been working to create long-term social change and provide support to Martin County residents by investing in programs that strive to: enhance healthy living, improve education, and support financial stability.