Story last updated at 12/19/2012 - 3:02 pm
As of last week, 12 of the 50 families who signed up for the Adopt-A-Family program at St. Vincent De Paul Society of Juneau have sponsors. That's 38 families that can't afford holiday gifts for their children that need help.
St. Vincent De Paul has been focusing on homelessness issues in Juneau for more than 15 years. They offer transitional housing for homeless families with children, apartments for single, homeless people experiencing disabilities and apartments for low-income households and seniors.
In addition, St. Vincent volunteer Rena Sims organizes two holiday programs for people in need. Sims coordinates both Thanksgiving food baskets and the Adopt-A-Family program.
Each holiday season families can register with St. Vincent to be "adopted," that is, to get help purchasing gifts for children in their family. This year 50 families registered with the society by the deadline of Dec. 10.
Martha Crockroft, an administrative staff member with St. Vincent said anyone in the community can sign up to receive aid. She said that the applicants must fill out a form indicating how many children are in the family and their gender and age. Parents or family members can indicate the children's shoe and clothing sizes. In addition, one "need" and one "want" are listed.
"A 'need' is a sweater," Crockroft said. "A 'want' is a remote control car."
Applicants are checked to ensure they're not double booking, or registering for aid from more than one organization.
"We really do want to (address) the needy," Sims said. "A lot of people have financial troubles, real hardships, struggles, families in hospitals, lost jobs, crisis. People that aren't making their house notes."
These people, Sims said, are the ones that St. Vincent aims to help. She said that teenagers often come in asking for assistance in helping out a younger brother or sister, as the parents may be absent or otherwise unable to make the request.
"Many teenagers play the parenting role," Sims said.
Local businesses, corporations, families and individuals who are in a position to help can head to St. Vincent's, and choose what applicant to sponsor. Some families in need may have more children, and a larger business is better equipped to sponsor them.
"I've seen companies spend thousands of dollars on one family," Crockroft said. "Many people are overly generous, and this may be the best Christmas they've ever had."
Some applicants have one child. Sims estimated that it costs around $50 per gift for each child.
"Twenty-five dollars doesn't get you anything anymore," Sims said. "Those days are gone. We're not going overboard, that's not a coat and boots and shoes, it's a coat and maybe a toy."
Sims has been coordinating the Adopt-A-Family program for more than a decade, along with two other volunteers, Paula Sumdum and Louise Wertheimer.
"All three of us are totally different but we work well together because we balance each other," Sims said.
Sims said that it's the younger children who easier to buy gifts for; the teenagers are trickier.
"Most people don't want to sponsor teenagers," Sims said. "They ask for the harder gifts, the iPod, the Nook, the iPad. Gifts that aren't under $100 but make them like every other teenager."
It's preferred that gifts are wrapped, though the St. Vincent staff is grateful for any donation and will take care of the wrapping. Sims also noted another way to help out.
"I learned that it's easier to get gift cards," she said.
Sims, Sumdum and Wertheimer spend many hours in various stores each season, but with gift cards they can bring parents to help chose gifts for their own children.
"We shop all day long," Sims said. "People come up to us and hand us money while we're shopping for people."
"I have people that stop me in the mall two days before Christmas and give me more names of people they know who are in need that didn't make the deadline (to apply for assistance)," Wertheimer said.
People can continue to donate gifts and monetary contributions right up until Christmas Eve.
Sims also noted that gift cards to places like hair salons and other services that younger females may enjoy go over well, as do larger clothing sizes.
"Some boys are larger, so pants that are extra large are helpful," Sims said. "People think of kids as small, but we have teenage boys that need the larger sizes of pants that aren't on sale."
Another way to pitch in is to simply drop off a check, a Christmas tree or unspecified gifts; the St. Vincent staff and volunteers will ensure delivery to appreciative hands.
Sims said there are a few companies and organizations that have a positive impact each year. Rachael MacLeod of the Capital Rotary Club helps coordinate the collection and donation of dinner boxes.
"Last year," Sims said, "The Lions Club came through when I needed bicycles. They came in with 25 bikes. That was huge."
She said it's the small local businesses that she sees going out of their way.
Sims stressed that any donation is worth the effort.
"Food, trees, and toys - whatever your child, grandchildren, nieces or nephews (would want), trust me, these children would like it also," Sims said.
For more information on St. Vincent's Adopt-A-Family program, they are located at 8617 Teal Street, or you can reach them by calling (907) 789-5535 or visit www.svdpjuneau.org.
Amanda Compton is the staff writer at the Capital City Weekly. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.