Nonprofits  December 1, 2023

Holiday programs offer many approaches to gift-giving

When it comes to holidays, lots of agencies work hard to fulfill unmet needs to ensure that children get gifts, families have a nice meal and that there’s fun to be had.

One such agency, Samaritan’s Purse, promotes the collection of gifts that are then placed in shoeboxes and shipped to 170 countries and territories through Operation Christmas Child.

“It shows children the love of God through a tangible gift,” said Stacy Parriott, logistics coordinator for the North Denver Area Team. “It’s a really amazing program to give these children hope and encouragement and to show them they are loved.”

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Locally, the North Denver Area Team collects the shoeboxes from seven drop-off sites and one central site, serving North Denver, Broomfield, Westminster, Boulder, Longmont and Erie. 

Donors are asked to find a small shoebox and fill it with a toy or game and filler items like school supplies and personal care items for children ages 2-14, or they can go online to pick the items, which are then placed in shoeboxes by team volunteers. Businesses and organizations also can get involved by hosting shoebox drives.

“It’s so simple for us in America who have so much, to give a simple shoebox gift,” Parriott said. “It’s such a blessing to so many kids around the world.”

Donors are asked to take the shoeboxes to a drop-off site (there are a total of 4,500), which are the nonprofit’s church partners, during National Collection Week, which this year was Nov. 13-20. The shoeboxes are then taken to the central location and on to the processing center in Englewood and from there shipped.

Samaritan’s Purse, founded in 1993 and based out of Boone, North Carolina, has distributed more than 209 million shoeboxes and hopes to collect enough this year to reach another 11 million children. Children receiving the shoeboxes hear the gospel message of Christ and are given an opportunity to participate in a 12-week discipleship program, taught by volunteers in their home countries.

“When you hear the stories of children who receive shoebox gifts, it touches your heart,” Parriott said, adding that children often share their boxes with family and friends. “A lot of people hear the message of Jesus Christ and tell their families and their communities.”

Larimer County Toys for Tots is another gift-giving program that serves Larimer, Boulder and Broomfield counties. The program, founded in the mid-1990s, originally was called Fort Collins Toys for Tots until eight years ago when it expanded to include the entire county, adding Broomfield County three years ago and north Boulder County this year. It is one of 800 programs nationwide operated by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve.

“There are many levels of need in our community, and the Toys for Tots program mission, as a nation, is that no child within reach goes without Christmas. We, as Marines, fulfill that mission every year and then some,” said Deborah Simer, coordinator of Larimer County Toys for Tots, who leads a team of 15 volunteers. “The children know there are people in the community who care no matter what their situation is.”

Toys for Tots collects brand-new, unused, unwrapped toys and distributes them to local children ages 0-18. The toys are collected through the nonprofit’s toy drives — averaging about 15 a year in July, November and December — and by businesses and community groups hosting toy drives or drop sites with donation boxes available on location. The nonprofit also uses monetary donations to make toy purchases, mainly from small local businesses.

Last year, Toys for Tots collected and distributed more than 58,400 toys and served 9,682 children in Larimer and Broomfield counties. The number of children receiving toys is actually more, since counts aren’t done on Christmas Eve when additional deliveries are added.

“I don’t worry about counting. I just worry about getting them toys,” Simer said. “Some of these kids have nothing. To get a brand-new toy at Christmas means the world to them. It can be something as simple as a teddy bear. … That’s what we do, we take care of our own.”

To give out holiday gifts, Boulder County Family Self-Sufficiency seeks gift card donations for its Holiday Gift Sponsor Program for clients of the federal HUD program. FSS works with low-income families in subsidized housing for up to five years on their career and education goals to help them improve their employment and financial situations.

Donors are asked to spend $50 per family member, including the parents or caregivers, but what often happens is the caregivers use the money on their children, said Katie Frye, support specialist for Boulder County Family Self-Sufficiency.

“This is a great opportunity for them to have something under the tree for their kiddos,” Frye said. “It makes a huge impact on kids. It allows them to not feel left out or different from other kids in school. It’s just a joyful time of year, and they get to experience that.”

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, donors picked out the names of families to purchase gifts on a wish list, but now donors are asked to purchase gift cards based on how much they want to spend, starting at $100 for a two-person family. They are given the names and ages of the family members and their preferred retail outlets for more of a personal connection.

“We stuck with the (gift card) model,” Frye said. “It’s very empowering — they appreciate being able to purchase gifts for their kids.”

Families are asked to pick up the gift cards Dec. 6 at FSS’s Boulder office or Longmont or Lafayette sites, with the aim they have enough time to make the purchases. Last year, the sponsor program assisted 44 families, including 47 adults and 78 children. The number of families being assisted this year hasn’t yet been determined, but there are 128 families in the overall program.

“We can be flexible if a donor wants to join later,” Frye said, adding that donors also can make cash donations for year-round emergencies, such as assistance with a bill. “Families can always use gift cards for a variety of reasons.”

House of Neighborly Service in Loveland and Berthoud hosts a holiday gift program and distributes holiday meals to its clients. The Christian-based nonprofit is a basic need service that provides clients with monthly food baskets, a clothing boutique, and emergency utility, gas and prescription assistance, plus operates a family-support and two homeless programs. Last year, the nonprofit gave out nearly 7,900 food baskets, each basket enough for one week’s worth of food. 

During the holidays, HNS adds a holiday food basket for Thanksgiving and again at Christmas that includes a turkey or ham and all the fixings. Last year, the nonprofit distributed 1,147 Thanksgiving baskets and 412 Christmas baskets. Also at Christmas, families can stop in at a temporary toy store set up in one of the rooms at the Loveland and Berthoud sites.

“When people are going through a crisis and struggling to make ends meet, these kinds of celebrations are usually what have to be cut,” said Cherri Houle, executive director of House of Neighborly Service. “These families need these celebrations when they go through these tough times. They need a time to come together, celebrate, eat and love on each other.”

The toys and gift cards come from individual donations and toy drives, primarily operated by businesses and churches. The toy store will open in Loveland Dec. 4 and in Berthoud Dec. 12 and continue at both locations through Dec. 21. During open hours, parents and caregivers will be able to shop for two to three new, unused toys for children and $25 gift cards for teenagers.

“It’s not that HNS is giving their kids toys; they are,” Houle said. “It feels empowering to give something to their children in a time of need. They then become the hero for their children.” 

Last year, 570 children got toys and 225 teens got gift cards.

“Currently, we’re running at a 22% to 25% increase over last year,” Houle said. “We’re anticipating more families than ever.”

When it comes to holidays, lots of agencies work hard to fulfill unmet needs to ensure that children get gifts, families have a nice meal and that there’s fun to be had.

One such agency, Samaritan’s Purse, promotes the collection of gifts that are then placed in shoeboxes and shipped to 170 countries and territories through Operation Christmas Child.

“It shows children the love of God through a tangible gift,” said Stacy Parriott, logistics coordinator for the North Denver Area Team. “It’s a really amazing program to give these children hope and encouragement and to show them they are loved.”

Locally, the North…

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