There will be many families in Delaware this Christmas suffering through a financial crisis, but their children don't have to do without a visit from Santa.

There will be many families in Delaware who, through no fault of their own, won't be having a merry Christmas this year.

These families will have recently suffered a severe and unexpected financial crisis, one that's sapped their bank accounts and left the parents having to decide between paying bills and helping Santa bring smiles to their children's faces.

"Last year, we helped some 2,500 people statewide," said Shannon Smith, program coordinator of Adopt A Family's Kent and Sussex counties branch. "This year, we're hoping to reach up to 3,000 people statewide.

"The need is much greater this year," she said. "You just can't imagine what it's like to have to tell your children that Christmas isn't coming."

To qualify, prospective families or senior citizens, who also are eligible for the program, must apply and be certified they meet all requirements for the program. All applicants must have experienced a recent unforeseen crisis that, through no fault of their own, has wrecked the family's finances.

Donors then are matched up with the adoptive family and are given only the genders and ages of the children. They also receive general information on the circumstances that led to the request for help.

The donors are asked to provide gift cards or gift certificates that are passed to the head of the household, and which can be used for buying the presents.

The recommended gift certificate is $100 to $125 per child, Smith said.

Adult family members are not eligible to receive donations from Adopt A Family, but a donor may provide one as an option.

The adoptive family does not know who has made the donation, and, except for the basic data provided about the children, the donor is not told the identity of the family.

This is to protect the family from any embarrassment they might feel by requesting help.

A Felton family, whose mother was on hand to speak about her experiences, is a prime example.

The woman, whose identity is being withheld to respect her privacy, said her husband lost his job and has exhausted his unemployment benefits. With their savings now gone, they've been forced to rely on family members to help pay the bills and thus have nothing left to buy a gift for their daughter.

"Christmas is not a necessity but a want," she acknowledged. "But we don't want our daughter to not have a Christmas. This will help give her one."

Delaware Secretary of Health and Social Services Secretary Rita Landgraf noted that 16 percent of Delawareans still live below the poverty line and that 154,000 receive food assistance and 215,000 receive medical coverage. Children in those families often are denied the type of Christmas others experience.

But those more fortunate can help, she said.

"All it takes to give a Christmas to a senior or to children is a gift card," she said.

Individuals, small companies and large corporations all can pitch in, particularly if they decide to help these families in lieu of buying presents for each other.

"I cannot think of a better way to help a family than to adopt that family instead of giving each other presents," Landgraf said.

In addition to buying gift cards and gift certificates, monetary donations to the program may be made directly to Adopt A Family.