Megan Kaiser had to humble herself five years ago.
Advent service opportunities
Looking for a way to give back this Advent and Christmas season? Consider helping some local organizations serve those in need:
St. Vincent de Paul Adopt-A-Family: Work one-on-one with a family in need to provide a toy and clothing item for the kids plus fixings for a Christmas dinner. Good project for families, schools and businesses. Adopt by Dec. 6. Info: (602) 261-6820.
St. Vincent de Paul Thanksgiving: Donate a turkey to help struggling families provide a traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. The Birds on Bikes drive will deliver turkeys to the main campus, 420 W. Watkins Road Nov. 24. Donors can also drop off turkeys at any Bashas’ or Food City location Nov. 26.
Maggie’s Place Gift adoption: Provide wish list items for current and alumnae moms. Large drive opportunities including paper ornaments for group effort or individual adoptions available. Info: (602) 262-5555.
St. Joseph the Worker: Select from three Christmas card designs created by a St. Joseph the Worker Jesuit volunteer and funds will support clients seeking meaningful employment. Cards are $10 each or $25 for three cards. Mix and match designs and add a personal message. View and order by Dec. 19. Info: (602) 223-3467.
Paz de Cristo: Donate turkeys and traditional Thanksgiving food items at the outreach center, 424 W. Broadway Road in Mesa. The clothing closet also needs mens jeans. Info: (480) 464-2370.
She and her husband finally worked up the nerve to visit St. Vincent de Paul’s dining room in Mesa. It’s open daily for breakfast and lunch.
“At first, we were really hesitant to do it because we never needed the help before. We were afraid we would be judged,” she said.
Despite coming from a halfway house for couples, the Kaisers never found the judgment they expected. Instead, they found warm smiles and cordial conversations from volunteers.
Suddenly, they weren’t scared to go in and ask for help anymore. The couple returned to the dining room a few times a week for about three months. They also received food boxes from a local St. Vincent de Paul pantry.
They gained self-sufficiency within six months. The couple gave birth to their first child and had their own place in time for Christmas. Two years ago, they were ready to give back and volunteered with St. Vincent de Paul’s Adopt-A-Family Program.
“We knew what it felt like to be down on our luck and have people supporting us without them judging us,” Kaiser said.
The Adopt-A-Family Program, which is accepting volunteers through Dec. 6, matches them with a local family in need. The program allows individuals, families, schools and businesses to “adopt” a family in need for the Christmas season.
St. Vincent de Paul’s Vincentians visit the family beforehand to create a profile of names, ages and needs of each family member. Sponsors agree to provide the fixings for a Christmas dinner and a gift for each family member.
Sponsors can specify a family size or request that they live in a certain area. The pair works together to agree on a time and place for the exchange.
The number of adoptable families increases slightly each year, with 450 families expected in 2013.
The second Christmas the Kaisers volunteered, they adopted a family similar to theirs: two parents and one child. Their 4-year-old son helped pick out toys. Their daughter, now 2, will soon also learn what the shopping is all about.
“We try to explain that we’re giving to other people and sometimes they need help,” Kaiser said.
Other sponsors, anyone from cupcake shop owners to a motorcycle club, take the approach of “What can we do this Christmas? We’ve been blessed.”
Volunteers work one-on-one with the adopted family to gauge children’s interests and learn clothing sizes. Kaiser likes to run her gift ideas by the parents and get their opinion.
“I must have called that poor dad 20 times,” Kaiser said.
She also uses those conversations as times to find out whether parents want the gifts pre-wrapped and where to meet for delivery.
“It seemed like both families had jobs and were trying to provide,” Kaiser said of the Adopt-A-Family experience.
She advised prospective adopters — individuals, families, schools and businesses participate — to remember that the families in need don’t ask for much. It might seem overwhelming, but the experience is easy and rewarding she said.
“Nobody is asking for anything extravagant,” Kaiser said.
Individuals and families like the Kaisers made up 36 percent of the Adopt-A-Family sponsors last year. Some 42 percent were banks, dental and medical offices, restaurants, law firms, government offices, hotels and others groups who adopted a family or two as a team-building effort.
FiliMex LLC was among them. Managers at 40 Filiberto’s locations throughout the Valley adopted a family through St. Vincent de Paul. They specifically requested a family that lived near their restaurant. Managers often live near the restaurant too, so that made the experience even more meaningful knowing they were giving back to the local community.
“The families were very excited and appreciative that we took the time to make their Christmases so much more,” said Mary Martinez, secretary. “What made it more exciting was knowing that we were helping families that really needed it.”
She praised the work of St. Vincent de Paul volunteers, who verify a family’s economic situation through a home visit.
“We believe that everybody deserves to have a nice Christmas, especially the kids,” Juan Tenorio, president of FiliMex LLC, said through an interpreter.
He said the managers would be happy to adopt families again this year and could have as many as 60 managers participating.
Both St. John Bosco School in Ahwatukee and Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Scottsdale have each adopted 20 families over the last 10 years. Each homeroom adopts a family with an average of four to seven members, but the students have adopted a family of two and a family of 11. The staff also adopts two families a year.
“We have helped single families and families who have lost everything due to job loss, illness and fire,” said Dorothy Abril, admissions specialist at St. John Bosco and program coordinator.
She described it as a great experience, especially if the students meet some of the family members.
“Nothing is more inspiring to us than the looks on the family members’ faces when we deliver their gifts to them,” Abril said. ✴