(In December of 2017 I was first introduced to the virtual miracle that is “Christmas Is For Kids.” In the spirit of the holiday season, I’d like to share the experience again here.)I had no idea.
When local radio host Dave Kane invited me to the former Brennan Middle School in Attleboro to observe the operation of the “Christmas Is For Kids” drop-off center, I sort of sighed to myself.
I’ve participated in various holiday gift drives in local communities over the years. All of them have been meaningful experiences, but — well, been there, done that. However, this was not your typical community Christmas drive.
I soon found myself in the midst of a highly organized, intensely motivated operation. The sheer scale of what they do and the selfless way they do it is amazing.
The Greater Attleboro Area Council for Children is a non-profit corporation made up entirely of volunteers. They run Christmas is for Kids, which works with several state and local agencies to provide Christmas gifts to over a thousand kids in Attleboro, North Attleboro, Mansfield, Norton, Seekonk and Rehoboth.
Every family has their eligibility checked according to the established guidelines. There is a complete assessment of their needs, rather than a random distribution of generic gifts. Kids are asked what they want as well as what they need, because every child deserves to have a Christmas dream come true. Often that is merely the clothes, shoes, and other staples their parent(s) can’t provide.
They seek not just donors, but givers. When you help this organization, you virtually adopt a child. You get the specifications of what these kids both want and need, and then go out and buy it. They give you the size, color, type, and other necessary information. But you actually pick out the gift for the child you don’t even know, which is very special.
Monetary donations are also accepted, as are new toys or gifts for children. If you are thinking that must require a lot of detailed work, you are right.
I met Kelly Fox, who heads the effort. She provided an overview of the way the organization operates. From the paperwork and spreadsheets handled by a group of focused individuals — using their own personal laptops and supplies in most cases — to the people sorting toys and clothes in converted classrooms, they made the entire process look easy.
Every child — assigned a number to maintain anonymity — has a “bag” containing their gifts set up in an orderly fashion. Eventually, under the supervision of the state agencies, they are handed to the families. Those are the greatest moments for these worker “elves” who give of their time and themselves every year.
As my jaw dropped in amazement at the scope of their operation, I managed to ask Kelly a simple question: Why do you do this?
She smiled, thought for a moment, then replied, “This is our Christmas. It’s what our family does. We say we do it for the kids, but we get as much out of it as they do.”
The stories had me in tears. The 11-year-old who asked for a mattress, having never slept on a real bed before. The 16-year-old who was embarrassed because he had to wear the same pair of pants to school every day.
And their praise of the donors was effusive. The local companies who generously contribute, the families that “adopt” kids, and even the anonymous strangers who drop off thoughtful gifts. Like the unidentified man who donated a “date kit” designated for a teenager. It contained gift cards for the movies, dinner, new clothes — all so a kid who couldn’t otherwise afford it could go on a date.
I spent pretty much my entire tour in tearful amazement. I encourage and even dare the toughest of you to visit and keep a dry eye. It opened up a new perspective for me because — I had no idea.
Thank you to Kelly, Dave, and each and every “elf.” The difference you unquestionably make goes beyond merely Christmas, and involves instilling in people the sense of self-worth every individual so desperately needs. You represent the best in all of us, and what you do for these children and families cannot be overstated.
Merry Christmas to you all.
(To donate to “Christmas is for Kids” or for information please call 508-226-0911 Monday-Friday between 5 and 8 p.m. or Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.)