By Maryam Sheikholeslami
NCJW/LA has a long history of serving at-risk and in-need families over the holidays. Through our Holiday Gift Program, for several years we have provided Target gift cards and compiled gift bags for 120 low-income families. While we want to continue the tradition of serving so many families, we decided that this year we also wanted to address some of the specific needs of a smaller group of families. After much brainstorming and planning, the Adopt-A-Family program was born.
Our next step was fundraising. We did not have a specific goal in mind, but hoped to raise at least $15,000 in order to meet a more significant need for each family. We placed signs in each of our Council Thrift stores asking for just five dollars and sent mailings to our supporters within the community. Thanks to the amazing generosity of our community, we more than exceeded our expectations and raised $35,454!Throughout this time we created an application for both families in need and a sponsor or social worker who was helping the family access resources. We then reached out to dozens of our partner social agencies across Los Angeles to ask if they knew of any families who could benefit from our program. As the applications came in we created an Adopt-a-Family Committee to help read through them. Together, we read the story of a single mom struggling to care for her autistic child and blind, elderly mother while attending school. She asked us only to help her with the purchase of a laptop, so that she did not have to spend long hours away from her family using the computer at the campus library. We purchased a laptop as well as new clothing for herself, her mother and child.
We were deeply moved to read of a survivor of domestic violence who was caring for four disabled children with no financial, medical or emotional assistance from their father. The family had no beds and few belongings. We provided beds, mattresses, pillows and bedding for the whole family, as well as an emergency rent payment for the month of December.While these stories were difficult to read, they inspired us. In total, we adopted 20 families (67 individuals). We provided 18 beds, mattresses, pillows and bedding, gave $4000 in assistance with utility bills, provided $5045 in emergency rental assistance and purchased $2670 in new clothes and holiday gifts. We provided a dining room table, a laptop for school and paid for the repair of a car.
Needless to say, we see the Adopt-a-Family program as a huge success and a much needed and appreciated program, particularly around the holidays. We are exploring making this an ongoing program throughout the year (not just around the holidays!). For me, the most amazing moment came at the end, when I made a call to a woman to let her know that we had paid nearly a thousand dollars of overdue bills to ensure her water and electricity would not be shut off that day. I remembered reading her personal essay – she was a single mother of two children who had recently left her abuser and returned to school. I could only imagine the amount of relief this provided for her. She was ecstatic and put her kids on the phone to thank me. By the end of the call we were both holding back tears. It was a deeply emotional reward for all of the hard work we had put into this program.
CMHSS would like to extend a warm and heartfelt thank you to all of those who donated their money and time to ensure this program was possible—in particular our amazing volunteers who spent hours shopping, wrapping and delivering gifts. In addition, we would like to extend a tremendous thank you to the volunteers who have donated countless toiletries, clothing, toys and other much needed items to our Holiday Gift Program. It has truly made a lasting impact on the lives of many families across Los Angeles.
Maryam Sheikholeslami is the NCJW/LA CMHSS Program Assistant & Scholarship Coordinator.