The 42nd annual Christmas Express is getting ready to roll through Hermiston.

Started in 1969, the drive presents holiday gifts to 500 needy families in the Hermiston area. Each family will receive a box of food, as well as toys for any child in the home age 11 and younger. The program is organized by the Hermiston Police Department, and this year, the department has partnered with three local churches — Living Faith, Hermiston Church of the Nazarene and New Hope. Acting Chief Jason Edmiston said although churches have volunteered in the past, this is the first year they have been identified as partners.

“I think the key to a successful program is finding partners, and reaching out to faith-based organizations seemed like a natural place to go,” Edmiston said. “The best case scenario for us would be to identify the 500 families through churches and school counselors. Teachers are going to know which kids in their class truly need help, and the churches are a big help with identifying the elderly, a group we know we miss every year.”

Additional families are identified through the Department of Human Services. Christmas Express does not accept self-referrals or sign-ups in an attempt to guarantee families with the highest need benefit from the program.

Families participating in Christmas Express will notice the food boxes look slightly different this year because of the rising cost of turkey.

“Our total bid was almost $5,000 larger than the bid last year for the same amount of food,” Edmiston said. “The program can’t sustain itself with those kinds of numbers, so we decided to go with hams this year.”

In 2010, the program operated in the red: Donations totaled $11,836 while expenditures cost $13,020. More than half of the monetary donations came from the Hermiston Rotary Club — $7,500 last year. Despite donations from local farmers and food processors as well as school canned food drives, almost 85 percent of the program expenses —about $11,000 — go toward purchasing stock food, including ham or turkey, stuffing and dry good staples.

“Monetary donations were down 33 percent from the previous year and expenditures were up 12 percent. We can’t keep taking these kinds of hits,” Edmiston said. In addition to fewer monetary donations, the program received fewer gift donations as well. Gifts can be dropped off at the Hermiston Police Department or Living Faith Church. Although presents for all age ranges are appreciated, Edmiston said Christmas Express is always short on gifts for children age 9-11, both boys and girls.

Monetary donations can also be given at the Hermiston Police Department, and receipts will be given.

“Right now the program is healthy. We try to carry over some every year to make sure the program continues one more year,” Edmiston said. “We see this as a beneficial program, we want to keep it going, but we have to be very careful what we’re spending our money on.”

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