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As Christmas nears, Adopt-a-Family calls for last-minute donors

As of Wednesday, 80 families in need have yet to be matched to donors
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Cindy Copeland and Karyn Kirkwood pose for a photo at the Adopt-A-Family headquarters at 69 Huron Street in this 2017 file photo. Kenneth Armstrong/GuelphToday

The Children’s Foundation is desperately seeking last-minute donors for its Adopt-a-Family program, which grants Christmas wishes for more than 1,000 families in Guelph.

As of Wednesday, 1,104 families have been referred to the Adopt-a-Family program, said Karyn Kirkwood, program director for Children’s Foundation of Guelph and Wellington (CFGW). Eighty of those families have yet to be adopted.

“A lot of them are medium to large families that require larger donation budgets,” said Kirkwood. “I would by lying if I said I wasn’t getting a little nervous.”

The Adopt-A-Family program accepts lists of ‘needs’ and ‘wishes’ from families referred by various social service agencies and neighbourhood groups in Guelph and Wellington County.

The items on the ‘needs’ list can include anything from winter coats and boots, bedding, pyjamas, socks and underwear to items like diapers.

The ‘wish’ list items include anything you would expect a child to ask for at Christmas. 

Donors matched to a family provide as many — or all — of the items on that family’s lists.

“We ask them what their spending budget is and match them up with a family. It gets harder as we go,” said Kirkwood.

When a donor budget does not match the needs for families, Kirkwood said the program asks them to focus on the children, while it will cover things like grocery gift cards for the adults.

On Wednesday morning, GuelphToday was given a tour of the Adopt-A-Family headquarters at 69 Huron St. 

Brenda Walsh, outreach and administrative coordinator for CFGW, showed the various staging areas for the operation, beginning with the ‘checking it twice’ station.

“These ladies go through the gifts as they come in and they just check that all of the gifts (on the list) were purchased, that the sizes are correct and everything is in line with the family’s needs and wishes,” said Walsh.

The items then move on to the gift wrapping station. On this particular morning, staff and volunteers from PIN – the People and Information Network – were busy wrapping the gifts that will eventually be sent out to families across the city.

“I think that’s particularly impressive, because these folks know of every volunteer opportunity in the city. The fact that they would come in and choose to do this really says something special to me,” said Walsh.

A gift shop has been set up with a number of toys collected from various toy drives. These toys can fill any gaps in the wish lists or fill any last minute orders.

“As much as we have 80 families waiting to get matched up right now, we will still have last-minute referrals come in,” said Walsh.

Lastly, the gifts are sent to the ‘sleigh loading’ station to be ready for pick up.

“We have social workers or community support people who come in and get the gifts for the families. They are all here labelled by alphabetical order,” said Walsh.

Cassandra Insell is a parent outreach worker for Guelph Community Health Centre and one of the people who delivers the presents to families just prior to Christmas.

“This is my favourite part of my job, I’m not going to lie,” said Insell. “I actually look forward to it all year long.”

Insell is also someone who refers families to the program. This year she referred 42 families from the Grange Hill East neighbourhood where she works.

“A lot of people I actually had to hunt down because I knew they were in a difficult way and they didn’t come to me,” said Insell. “Sometimes I need to seek people out because I know they have a hard time asking for help.”

Over the three years she has worked with the neighbourhood group, Insell said she has seen the difference the program has made to families in need.

“I wish I could meet every single donor and thank them personally for the differences they have made in these peoples’ lives. They have no idea,” she said.

The program is a good equalizer because kids don’t understand why Santa Claus may have brought more expensive toys to other children they know.

 “Programs like this allow for families to be able to get kids the gifts they ask for on their Santa list,” said Insell. “It’s unreal the gratitude I see when parents open their door and see bags of toys for their kids.”