When you strip away all the consumerism and commercialism that make up a 21st-century holiday season, you can still find plenty of timeless kindness in the Lake Minnetonka area. Western Communities Action Network (WeCAN)’s Adopt-A-Family program matches up the generosity of residents with families in need. “It’s wonderful to see the impact the community’s kindness has on these families,” says Lisa Floeter, a family advocate for WeCAN. “We get to see a lot of the tears and gratefulness.”
Floeter remembers one such family, with several small children, who signed up for WeCAN’s Adopt-A-Family program. “The father had recently lost his job, and the family was reluctant to ask for help,” says Floeter. When the family came to pick up their gifts at the Mound WeCAN office, there were four big bags waiting for them. The mother looked overwhelmed and thanked the staff repeatedly. “She came back into our office and had tears streaming down her face,” says Floeter. “She hugged each of us and told us these gifts would make Christmas real for her children.”
WeCAN has been coordinating the Adopt-A-Family program for more than 20 years. Each year, the need grows. In 2014, more than 400 children from 131 families received gifts through the program. WeCAN registers families in need starting in October, and then matches them anonymously with donors in the community. Parents share two needs, like clothing or shoes, and two wants, which are typically toys, for each child in the home. “A lot of families ask for really basic things that we take for granted, like laundry detergent and winter clothing for their kids,” says Floeter.
The families are also prompted to ask for a household gift or outing, like restaurant gift certificates or movie passes. WeCAN then reaches out to the community, and a family, business, congregation or group of friends can sponsor a family in need. Coordinating wish lists and the more than 80 donors is a detailed, labor-intensive effort. “We rely on more than 30 volunteers just to help us meet with families, get wish lists to donors and churches, organize all the gifts, and get them to families,” says Floeter. “We are working on it behind the scenes from October through the end of December.”
Thank-you notes sent to WeCAN’s office show just what a bag of presents really means to the recipients. The cards describe the joy the presents bring after a year filled with challenges like illness, car accidents, financial hardship or the loss of a job. “You are bringing hope into our home again after we have struggled. Words cannot express how thankful I am,” says one card from a recipient. “Bless you.”
Donors hope their gifts will make the season brighter. “The reason I like to do this is [that] I like to imagine there’s a family out there who has a little better Christmas morning because of it,” says Roban Smith, who has been adopting a family for more than five years. She tries to sign up for a family that resembles her own, so she can involve her two daughters in shopping for gifts. She also tries to buy the adults a little something extra. “When there’s financial need, the adults are probably not spending money on themselves,” says Smith. “It makes me really happy that on a day that is happy for the rest of us, we can bring a little happiness to a family who needs some.”
Want to get involved? Contact WeCAN to donate to the Adopt-A-Family program or the organization’s year-round birthday shelf program.