Program provides 432 area children with Christmas gifts
A maze of puzzles, dolls, fishing poles and bicycles engulf the second floor of the Southern Iowa Economic Development Association in Fairfield as its annual “Adopt a Family” program prepares to deliver gifts to 432 children in Jefferson County this Christmas.
During Carol Long’s three years as SIEDA administrator, she’s helped parents who lost their home in a fire, who are coping with an illness in the family, or who are struggling with financial hardship after losing a job.
“With the economy the way it is, so many families are hurting,” she said. “This program gives a little bit of relief, and lets parents feel like their kids are getting a nice Christmas.”
SIEDA, which helps connect needy families with a variety of services, provides an application for the Christmas program in the fall as families come in seeking heating assistance or to enroll in the Head Start federal program. Since the program has been active for more than a decade, Long said many families learn of it through word of mouth.
Dozens of local businesses, churches and residents have signed up to do a little extra shopping this year. Long provides each adopter with the age, gender and clothing size of the children, along with the items he or she most needs or desires. Children must be high school age or younger to qualify.
Long said it’s been touching to see people become invested in the child they adopt. One fishing enthusiast decided to go all out for his adopted 14-year-old boy who put fishing gear on his wish list. Volunteer and Girl Scout leader Chris Garrison struggled to fit the high-end fishing pole and tackle box into an appropriate bag Friday.
“This will be one happy boy on Christmas,” said Garrison.
During Long’s time at SIEDA, she’s never had to turn away a family who needs adopting.
“It’s just been fantastic the way people have embraced the project,” said Long. “I’m blown away every year by how much the community gives.”
While the majority of presents are donated, she said the association can dip into its emergency fund to provide for outstanding families or to fill in gaps so each child receives equitably on Christmas.
Long said the program works in conjunction with Fairfield resident Jonas Magram’s annual Children’s Holiday Benefit Concert, which he’s held in Fairfield for the past 20 years. A portion of the proceeds go toward SIEDA’s emergency fund, which along with helping the Christmas program, helps children buy school supplies each fall.
This year, Long said each child who puts a bicycle on their wish list will receive a shiny, new bike.
“This is a special thing we’re doing for the kids,” she said.
“A new bike and Christmas are things that go together.”
Volunteers will help Long distribute the bags of gifts to families Wednesday and Thursday.
“It’s an awesome feeling for us who get to do this,” she said. “A lot of man-hours go into this, but it’s fun, and worth every minute.”