I was deeply moved when I read Victoria’s announcement that EdenFantasys would be sponsoring needy families for Thanksgiving and Christmas during the Community Events Committee Meeting a few weeks ago. Over the next few days following the meeting, I searched for local organizations in my community that help families in need, calling them up to gather more information about their goals and their missions. In my search, one particular organization that stood out to me was the Assistance Center of Collin County (ACCC). I was impressed by their many family assistance programs, but what arrested my full attention and simply astounded me was the program they call Plano Santas.
Plano Santas is a city-wide effort to meet the needs of 500 struggling families. By city-wide, I mean that it is truly a cooperative community effort: even school children get involved by bringing canned goods from home, while yet another local organization helps the ACCC transport these goods and organize them in an old grocery store, which is affectionately dubbed “Santa’s Workshop.” Other organizations, including our local firefighters, add their own donations and this helps in the purchasing of enough hams, turkeys, and other food staples to feed each of these 500 families for an entire month. One particular group, the WFFA, sponsors a toy drive to stock “Santa’s Workshop.” Yet another group calling themselves the Plano Shoe Ministers donates hundreds of $15 Payless Shoe Source gift cards. It is truly heartwarming to see such a cooperative and united community-driven effort.
The ACCC began taking applications for families in need just a couple of weeks ago. The “adopter” provides the gifts for the children in the form of clothing and toys, while the city donates a 30-day supply of food to each “adopter” to take to his or her adopted family, along with a $15 Payless Shoe Source gift card for each child. When the “adopter” shows up at “Santa’s Workshop,” ACCC volunteers load up the “adopter’s” car with several crates of food.
The ACCC has sponsored Plano Santas for several decades. Sadly, there are lots of families who go unadopted each year. While the children of the unadopted families do not receive gifts in the form of clothing or toys, all of the families – including the unadopted families – at least receive the 30-day supply of food. I am just so very grateful to this community and all of you here at EF that one less family will go unadopted this year and will thus be receiving some much-needed clothing.
I was so anxious to adopt our family that I went in on Friday, November 5, while the ACCC was still busy accepting applicants. When I arrived, they had already approved almost half of their 500-family limit over the previous three days. Wading through the crowded waiting room of mothers with young children in tow, I headed to one of the back conference rooms where a volunteer helped me to search through Case Sheets to choose EF’s special family.
When I went in that afternoon, I carried with me a vague idea of adopting a family of four or five. I imagined this family having fairly young children and I had visions of purchasing Barbie dolls and Tonka toys and tiny clothing. But while searching through the Case Sheets on a selection of families, something on one particular sheet caught my eye: Single mother / On ACCC Self Sufficiency Program / Son has a brain tumor. I pulled the sheet from the stack and could not put it down. Would the community at EF be disappointed in me for choosing such a small family? Would they prefer to help a family with more children? This family was a relatively small family of three: a 49 year old mother, a 15 year old daughter, and a 12 year old son (the child with the brain tumor).
When I asked the volunteer who was helping me whether this family had a better-than-average chance of being adopted by someone else due to their small size and special circumstances, he told me that it was actually the families with such special circumstances who often go unadopted because, in general, people are uncomfortable not knowing “what they are getting into.” So, the majority of people who come in to adopt a family tend to shy away from families with “special needs.”
Having made my selection, I was given an envelope containing two $15 Payless Shoe Source gift cards that was donated from the Plano Shoe Ministers, an instruction sheet for picking up and delivering the 30-day supply of food on either December 18 or 19, and the family’s Case Sheet, which includes their address and phone number.
I was able to get in touch with the mother the next day, Saturday, November 6. She expressed her sincere gratitude and assured me that anything, however meager, would help. Her son, who is almost 13, has been in stable condition for the past three months and she sounded very happy to report that he has been attending school regularly this semester.
When trying to nail down sizes for the kids, she told me that it had been so long since they had been able to go clothes shopping that she was unsure of their sizes. Teenagers grow so fast and, in her words, “change their minds so often about what they want.” She suggested that perhaps a gift certificate allowing them to go shopping to try on clothes might be best. When pressed for ideas from which stores her daughter and son would like a gift certificate, she suggested Target for her son and Forever 21 for her daughter. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Forever 21, it is a store that sells trendy, yet very affordable, clothing for young women.
While I was somewhat disappointed to not be able to go shopping to buy gifts and to wrap them all up in cheerful Christmas paper, I strongly believe that a gift certificate for each of these children is what would meet this family’s needs the best. At almost-13 and 15, there are few activities more exciting for kids in this age range than going on a shopping spree and making their own choices and selections. And while it’s certainly “less fun” for the shopper not to be able to buy toys, clothing is important to teens. So, I think it would be best if every bit of the money donated to this family by our community goes toward splitting it into equal amounts to purchase a gift card for each child so they can buy clothing.
Again, I just want to express my gratitude to EF for donating to such a worthy cause and for organizing such a wonderful way to give back during the holidays, a time when those who are struggling feel the most strain. Nothing is more heartbreaking for a parent than to not only be unable to fulfill some of their children’s wants, but to be unable to fulfill their needs. Thank you in advance to all of you who are generous enough to donate some of your EF points toward helping this particular family this Christmas.
I just want to close in saying that I was heartbroken as I looked over each Case Sheet last Friday, worrying with each sheet I looked at whether this was a family who would go unadopted and overlooked this Christmas. I dearly wish we could have adopted them all, but we cannot become overwhelmed by the knowledge that we cannot help every single needy family in the world. But to one needy family, we can make all the difference in the world. The biggest difference we make to them is not in the gifts we bear, but in buoying their spirits by simply showing them that someone cares.