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DES MOINES, Iowa — Christmas can be a stressful time of year, especially for families struggling with day-to-day expenses. One organization has been helping hundreds of families celebrate the season for 60 years. Now, the group needs extra assistance.

Michelle Irias wants to make Christmas special for her two girls. She says, “I have a 13-year-old and 7-year-old.”

She has a job, but her husband was laid off from his. The Bidwell Riverside Center helps the family with food, clothes and now gifts during holiday season. Irias says, “It’s really nice and calming. And, I feel for them also because I know they stress out for us.”

The organization will serve 700 families with its annual Christmas program, including 2,000 kids. That’s in addition to the families’ regular needs throughout the year. Bidwell Riverside Director Anne Bacon says, “This year alone we’ve seen a 45% increase in the people needing assistance while at the same time we had to have budget cuts due to not enough donations, so we lost staff while serving more people. So, some of the resources that would have previously went to providing Christmas for folks had to go to their basic needs every day.”

Partnerships help the group. A church, which wants to remain anonymous, donated $15,000 for grocery gift cards so families can have a Christmas feast. Toys for Tots will provide gifts for those younger than 13, but the organization still needs help for teens. The organization serves about 700 kids 13 and up. Bacon says, “When they think about Christmas, they think about the younger kids, but we want to make sure our teenagers have a great day as well.”

Each teen will get a $50 gift card to a major retailer. The organization only has enough cards for 100 teens and donations are needed as soon as possible. Bacon says, “The actual Christmas sharing days are this coming weekend.”

Irias says she’s looking forward to the sharing weekend and getting a little help finding the perfect presents to put under the tree. She says, “I feel really good and satisfied and happy and thankful.”

You can drop off gift cards at the Bidwell Riverside Center located at 1203 Hartford Avenue in Des Moines. Or, you can donate online at Bacon says that’s the best option because donations are needed now.