By Audrey Kelly – Republished with permission.
Adopting a family sounds like a difficult task, but it doesn’t take much to provide a family with a more cheerful holiday season.
Abby Juhasz, the community service coordinator in the Student Engagement Center, facilitates the Adopt-a-Family program every winter. Whitman students, faculty and staff can group together (like the Biology department, the Admissions Office, and Marcus House) to “adopt” a family. Groups donate funds necessary to ensure that their family has enough food, necessities and small gifts to make their holidays special.
“We delineate between Wants and Needs … [that way] people get the things that are clearly essential, but also in the spirit of the holidays, when you get things you wouldn’t normally get for yourself,” said Juhasz.
Covering both the wants and needs of an individual costs about thirty dollars. Ten of those dollars are for gift certificates to a local grocery store and the other twenty dollars goes towards buying gifts. This year there were forty-three families available for adoption, a modest increase from last year, when there were thirty-nine.
“[The families] are identified by Blue Mountain Heart to Heart and the Health Center … they are currently living at or below the poverty line,” said Juhaz.
While it is useful to use the poverty line as a distinguisher of need, Juhasz said that there are many families living just above the poverty line that are still very much in need and clearly deserving of aid. Some of these families go to the warming center, which is newly located at the First Congregational Church.
“Many people are asking for thermal underwear,” said Juhasz. She said the warming center is currently looking for toiletry donations.
Toiletries and thermal underwear may seem like necessities in the cold winter months in Walla Walla, but unfortunately those often end up in the “Wants” column.
Juhasz emphasized how impressed she is by the Whitman community’s response to the needs in Walla Walla.
“Whitman students have a dedication to serving … throughout the year, but especially during the holidays,” she said. “This morning I came in to a whole bunch of emails, and I am pretty sure that every family will be covered now.”
Whitman’s service programming during the holidays does not end with Adopt-a-Family.
Students and staff are making additional efforts, including making cards for the Adopt-a-Grandparent and Mentor programs next week.
“A card is a form of recognition of the significant relationship [between Whitman student and mentee or adopted grandparent]. It’s something they can hold onto during Whitman’s long winter break,” Juhasz said.
Between the two programs, the Whitman community produces about five hundred cards during the holiday season.
“Whitman students have an ethic of service and dedication to the local community,” said Juhasz.
The in-kind donation through the Adopt-a-Family program last year was $3,180 from the Whitman Community. An in-kind donation is a non-monetary donation like time or energy that is still assigned a monetary value to address it’s relative impact or significance.
“Service is a quiet effort at Whitman,” said Juhasz. “People don’t know the magnitude, the incredible in-kind donation that Whitman makes to the community every year. When you put all the efforts of Whitman students together, it’s incredible.”