Almost since the Sts. Joachim and Ann Care Service began 40 years ago, its Adopt-A-Family program has been a staple of its early-winter initiatives. Through all those years, the program has grown to include nearly 500 families within the organization’s service area.
While based in St. Charles, Sts. Joachim and Ann works with people who are in tough spots throughout Lincoln, St. Charles and Warren counties, with a focus on helping with the problems of homelessness and hunger, said Donna Tobin, development associate with Sts. Joachim and Ann.
Tobin said approximately 30 percent of the 500 families in this year’s Adopt-A-Family are from Lincoln County, as are a significant percentage of the organization’s annual clients.
“Our agency is one of the lead agencies for the area in working with disaster relief and recover, which means we spent a significant portion of the summer working with the people who were affected by flooding, and that did include quite a few families up in Lincoln County,” Tobin said. “And we do have some of those flood families that are in our Adopt-A-Family program this year as well.”
Families participating in Adopt-A-Family will fill out a wishlist, writing down the first names of their immediate relatives and the types of presents they have on their wishlists, along with clothing sizes and their age to help people shopping for them get an idea of what they need to buy.
Starting in October, Sts. Joachim and Ann begins recruiting people, businesses and organizations, to adopt those families and provide the things on their wishlists.
“We are very fortunate this year – all of our families were adopted about a week ago,” Tobin said. “Which is early, sometimes right through Thanksgiving we’re still kind of panicking on trying to get everyone adopted.”
Whoever adopts a family is asked to provide at least two-three new gifts per family member, and the ingredients to make a holiday meal.
“That can either be gift cards to a grocery store or a combination of gift cards for perishable items and sending in non-perishable items,” Tobin said.
On Dec. 14 at St. Charles Community College, all the people who’ve adopted will come through and drop off all their collected goodies; the next day, the group of volunteers does the entire process in reverse, with the adopted families coming through for volunteers to load all the gifts into their cars.
“The kind of exception to that is we do have a few senior citizens whose gifts are delivered to them, and the Winfield School District actually sends down several of their school buses to pick up the items for their families that were adopted, and takes it back up to Winfield and distributes it from there,” Tobin said.
The event is huge – with around 500 families and hundreds of volunteers that show up during those days, it’s a large-scale affair. In addition to all the gifts, Sts. Joachim and Ann also provides bicycles to kids in the families if they ask for one. The bikes range from new to older, with the used ones pulled apart, worked on and cleaned up by the Royal Order of the Squirrels.
“So if you walk over there Saturday morning at 8 o’clock, the building that we’re in – which is the gym building – is pretty much empty…and by about 2 in the afternoon you can’t walk anywhere because there’s so many things taking up all the space and the entire outside of the building is surrounded by bicycles,” Tobin said. In addition to community members volunteering time helping at the event, Sts. Joachim and Ann also enlists the public in providing extra gifts, so that any gaps in the Adopt-A-Family wishlists can be filled.
“A lot of times people will get a number of gifts for little kids, but maybe the teenagers or adults or our senior citizens aren’t getting as many gifts, so then we ask the community to provide us additional gifts, especially for teenagers and senior citizens, to kind of help us balance that out,” Tobin said.
In the Lincoln County R-III School District, the Parents as Teachers Program finds the local families, and Parents as Teachers Secretary Ellen Geiger connects them with Sts. Joachim and Ann.
“It is a wonderful experience,” said Geiger. “Being a coordinator, I also get to go down and help pass out the gifts the day that they pass them out, which is amazing to see the families come and get their gifts.”
The impact the Adopt-A-Family program has can’t be understated, Geiger said. Many of those enrolled would be hard-pressed to have any sort of Christmas or holiday celebration without it.
“We’ve had parents that come down and are crying as they pick up [the gifts] because it’s so emotional for them to know that their kids are going to have something under the tree,” Geiger said. “Even if its something as simple as a used bike – not everything is new – even if it is a used bike, or if its clothes, anything is so appreciated.”
Wishlists can be found at the bottom of the page at www.jacares.org.