For the past 10 years, St. Vincent de Paul Society volunteers Rena Sims, Paula Sumdum and Louise Wertheimer have headed up the organization’s Adopt-A-Family program, supporting Juneau families in need during the holidays. And every year, they said, they happily allow the program to take over their lives until each family’s Christmas is merry and bright.
In past years, “we spent 10 to 12 hours in the store trying to shop for families and wrapping the gifts,” Sims said. “That takes a lot of time — until 2 or 3 in the morning sometimes.”
Through Adopt-a-Family, families are sponsored with donated food and gifts. This year, as of the Friday deadline, only 100 of the 200 families that had signed up had been adopted, Sims said.
That’s why, instead of hitting Fred Meyer and Walmart themselves like every year in the past, the volunteer team is now collecting donations of every kind from the community until Dec. 19. The donations will be brought to St. Vincent de Paul’s Smith Hall where families participating in the program will be able to pick out what they want and need for Christmas. The families will wrap their own gifts and every child will have something to open on Christmas day, Sims said.
“We’re going to allow families to pick from what the community brings in,” she said. “We’ve been out at the store on Christmas Eve. We are trying to stay out of the store this year.”
There’s a higher demand for food this year, Sims said. Having something tasty to eat on Christmas is sometimes all it takes to brighten a family’s holiday, she said.
And, of course, gifts are needed, too.
“Doll babies, trucks, cars, Lego sets, coloring books, boots and shoes,” Sims said. “If your child would love it, our children would love it even more.”
Sims said they usually receive a lot more donations for younger children than they do for teenagers. An excellent teen gift would be a gift card to Subway, McDonald’s, Fred Meyer, Walmart, Nugget Alaskan Outfitter or Gross Alaska Theatres, Sumdum said.
“A young man could take a date; a girl could go with her friends to the show,” she said.
Often an afterthought, families also need wrapping paper for their childrens’ gifts, Sumdum said. Have old, partial rolls laying around the house? St. Vincent de Paul can use them, she said.
Donations can be dropped off at St. Vincent de Paul, 8617 Teal St. The organization is also accepting monetary donations. Checks can be mailed or dropped off at the Teal Street address. Donations can be made online at svdpjuneau.org. But cash is best, the volunteers said.
Although there’s a lot to get done in a short time to make sure every family that signed up for the program is provided for, the volunteers have faith the community will pull through, they said. Right before Thanksgiving, the organization was struggling to put together 600 meal baskets, Sims said. But Juneau businesses and residents donated hundreds of turkeys, making the program a success.
“It is our community that steps up to the plate, and it makes me cry every time,” Sims said. “This is an awesome family to be in, an awesome community to be in.”
Sims said she’s sometimes questioned about whether she feels she’s enabling dysfunctional parents by helping them during the holidays. Sure, some people will take advantage of charity, but the vast majority are beyond thankful for the help, she said.
“We have had teenagers run up to us in the parking lot with tears in their eyes,” Sims said. “We think in these terms — when we look at the children, when we look at the families, it’s more than worth it.”
• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.