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Is Adopt-a-Family the best way to go?

Updated on April 29, 2012

Research Paper



Is Adopt-a-Family the Best Way to Go?



Growing up, Christmas was an elaborate time of the year for my family. My sister and I would put out cookies annually, enough for the reindeer as well, and could hardly get to sleep on Christmas Eve because of all of the excitement. One year our dad even got his boots, put flour on the bottom, and made it look as if Santa had left footprints of snow leading from the chimney to the tree. Of course we bought the story, who wouldn’t! Christmas was always a time of joy for my family and I can’t imagine it being anything less than that. The less fortunate deserve to feel that joy as well. Could you imagine waking up as a child on a Christmas morning, going to where your Christmas tree was set up, and then finding that there were no presents? As a child you would come to the only conclusion which would be that Santa had forgotten about you. Some children don’t get to experience the type of Christmas that so many of us are used to because their family can’t afford to spend the extra money it takes to buy presents. Even more so, in the recent years, there have been more families that are finding themselves in this situation due to job loss in the bad economy and increased poverty rates. The privileges I was blessed with made me want to have others feel the way I did when I woke up and saw all of the presents under our Christmas tree as well. Luckily there are charities that do just that.


Adopt-A-Family started in 1983 by “three Palm Beach County women who recognized the need to help families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless due to a financial reversal, illness, divorce, death or other extenuating circumstances”(Charity Navigator). The charity catered to “homeless children and their families; lower income, working families in search of affordable housing opportunities; working poor who do not earn enough to support their families and are at risk of becoming homeless; and families in a short-term situational crisis putting them at risk of homelessness” (Charity Navigator). Adopt-A-Family receives an overwhelming amount of applications coming from those in need of assistance each Christmas. “Many of the families applying for assistance are facing financial hardships and are unable to afford a Christmas dinner or new toys and warm clothing for their children”(Salvation Army). There is a wide range of people who apply. There are those who are a part of large families, where a parent may have been laid and has been out of work, and some are single parent families that possibly have a very low household income. AAF has a system of matching families in need with families that are willing to help.


The Adopt-A-Family (AAF) organization “… matches impoverished families with individual or group sponsors to provide for their tangible needs at Christmas. Without the benefit of an adoption, these families would be looking forward to a very grim holiday”(Salvation Arm). Once a family has been adopted once, it is very likely that that is it. It is very rare if a family gets adopted twice. Once an impoverished family is adopted by a donor, the family information and wish lists are gathered and then sent to the sponsor. An inventory of each family’s needs is taken and a Christmas wish list is assembled. The gift guide that is received by the sponsors may include clothing, toys, household items and information. Sometimes, in addition to gifts, sponsors also make payments on the families’ utilities. As a minimum, sponsors are to give two or more new presents for each member of the household that had been adopted..
Sponsors come in many shapes and sizes, just like the adoptees. Donors can be families, small businesses or large corporations, or even individuals. It is whoever is willing to participate and provide for the families in need. A lot of the sponsors find the experience so rewarding that they choose participate in the program year after. Because it is a onetime thing, rarely two, this organization is not focusing on reforming a family, but providing a Christmas that brings them joy.


In high school, I was introduced to this organization and it helped me achieve my goal. I was on the dance team and my director got us, as a team, involved with the Adopt-a-Family (AAF) program. The AAF organization helped families that were missing out on the kind of Christmas that I described,; families that were lacking joy at that time of the year because they were unable to afford it. We adopted two families as a group, including our junior varsity and varsity teams. The parents of the families that we adopted would provide descriptions of their family members including age, gender, interests, and necessities. Upon receiving these descriptions all of us girls split up into teams and were assigned one family member. We then took the money that we donated, plus the money that we raised, and went shopping for the presents that best fit the family member we had. Once we were all done shopping, we met back together and began the wrapping process, making sure to put name tags on all of the gifts we bought. After all of that was finally done all the girls went back home, however, because I was an officer, I was one of the girls who got to deliver the presents to the family in need.


The family that we served consisted of a single mother, who had lost her job, and her three young daughters. She requested that her girls open some of the presents in front of us and some be left for Santa to deliver. It was such a great experience to get to watch her little girls become so excited as they opened their presents and as they couldn’t stop saying thank you. Getting the privilege to provide and present this family with presents was an amazing experience. I got to see all of their faces completely light up and see the joy that it brought them. This experience really affected me in the sense that I now see that giving to others is more important than just always receiving. Giving to others in itself can be extremely rewarding because the gift of giving is truly special and can leave you with an amazing feeling. While our team and recipients had an amazing experience with AAF, through my research I found that this was not always the case. There were multiple issues with complications and counts reported of people being inappropriate. Is there another organization out there that can lead to the same outcome but without obstacles such as explicit notes being left in a child’s gift, or abuse of the personal information given out?


The underlying problem that is causing families to not be able to afford things during Christmas is simple, it’s the high poverty rate in America. It turns out that the rates are even higher in Waco than in most of the United States. Demographic specialists and sociologists in Baylor University’s Center for Community Research and Development stated that Waco’s poverty rates were higher than the recorded national rates which were released by the U.S. Census Bureau. The Census Bureau placed the poverty rate for families at “9.5 percent in 2007 and for individuals at 13 percent”(KWTX). However, Baylor specialists said in 2007, that “the poverty rate for families was 21.9 percent in Waco and the individual poverty rate was 27.6 percent”(KWTX).


Poverty is something that can effect anyone at anytime and people of any gender or race. There is nothing that says that one person is exempt and the other is not. The prevention of poverty is also not always something we can control. For example, when the economy crashed there were countless people that were effected, some more than others. The 2008 economic crisis hit most people by surprise and put them in situations that they never though they would be in. The outcome of this was “high unemploymentrates, along with the continuing decline in home values and increase in foreclosures and personal bankruptcies”(Marx). Poverty effects every aspect of the lives of people who have to live with it. Christmas is supposed to be a time of elation and a time of giving as well. However, both joy and giving can be hard to come by when a family can barely provide the necessities they need on a daily basis. When families are living in poverty, they simply cannot afford to give presents to their children during that time of year. This, in itself, creates a problem. As a parent you would want to provide the very best for your children, but without the finances, it would not be possible. A feeling of hopelessness would take over because a parent would know that there was nothing that could make getting the things they need for the holiday a possibility. This, in addition to disappointment, can lead to stress within the family and also individually for the parents. It is very hard on a family when they cannot enjoy this time of year.


Along with unemployment, the food prices also went up, making it even harder to provide an entire family with the basic things needed from day to day. With families struggling to pay for things like food, rent, and utilities, gifts around Christmas for a lot of people were just not plausible. Finding yourself in a situation like that can come as a shock and a lot of people found themselves in bewilderment like Catalan who stated that "You just don't think that could happen to you, and it can happen to any of us. We just don't stop and think.” Catalan found herself in the care of Mission Waco after her husband lost his job before the Christmas of 2010. Because of low family income, many new families, in addition to the already high poverty rate, found themselves in tight positions when it comes to Christmas spending. Some families, along with financial instability, have other factors like health issues that make it hard to provide during Christmas. In the article, “Featured Program: Michigan’s ‘Adopt-a-Family’ Program” by Kathleen Erickson, Erickson describes an encounter she had with the AAF organization. Erickson was working at the charity headquarters where she decided to spend her time volunteering. She stated that during Christmas time everything starts to get even more hectic. She explained that even though the deadline had passed, she decided to let a 29 year old homeless mother of four who was also battling thyroid cancer, turn in an application. The cost of treatment for her cancer was one of the main factors that contributed to her inability to pay bills, much less gifts for her children. Her sickness also made it hard for her to get a job due to the fact that she would be too sick to work a lot of the time.


As Christmas approached, a mother and her daughters came to help at the headquarters and decided to adopt one of the many families that still needed to be adopted. The young mother was chosen by them and the women who initially came to volunteer with her daughters decided to go out and buy the family presents. However, while at the store a snow storm blew through and in a rush to get to her car, she left one of the main bags containing presents behind. She then decided to go back out at midnight in order to buy presents to replace the ones that were left. After the presents were bought, Erickson was then faced with finding out how to get the presents to the family because they lived 90 miles away and the young mother didn’t have a car. She decided to drive out of her way on Christmas Eve to deliver the presents. Erickson stated that she left feeling very happy and felt as though she was the “true recipient of [that] season of giving.”


Other families that donated to this organization found it to be just as rewarding. In “A rewarding alternative to the holiday rat race” by Ian Bailey, the Carling family shared their decision that they might never buy each other a significant Christmas present ever again. Instead, they have decided to donate and give to the AAF program. They stated that "The last three Christmases have probably been the most enjoyable ever because of this program, knowing the family you're paired with might not celebrate Christmas the way a lot of families do without the assistance of the program"(Carling). The long term effect that this charity had on the Carling family is shown through their testimony. They were so moved by their experience that they stopped buying big presents for their family and each other and gave to other families who needed it more. On a different account, AAF also attracted a younger crowd. A hockey team that has been donating and participating in the Adopt-a-Family charity for five years recently adopted two families instead of one because of the bad economy which lead to more families on the list that needed help. (Nowak) The boys used their own money, not their parents’, and were able to provide families with gifts.


AAF has had so many positive results over the years, but unfortunately they have also had bad ones. In the article “Charlottetown Salvation Army cuts Adopt-A-Family program” written by CBC news, reasons for dropping the Adopt-a-Family program were explained. Charlottetown says that they decided to drop the program due to the unfairness of it. They claimed that some families were getting more presents than others. Instead of giving the donors a description of a family that is in need, they decided to start asking the donors for donations and gifts without specific people in mind. That way, they will be able to take the donations and distribute them evenly. Also, In the article “Christmas gift program scrapped” by Globe and Mall, an explanation for the termination of AAF in one area was also given. The charity program was dropped after several teen-aged girls found notes in their gifts that were sexually explicit. After a family has been adopted it is difficult to police the program. Once the donor is given the names, ages, sexes, and addresses of the families in need, it is out of the Salvation Army’s hands.(Mall) After the exchange of information, the donors deliver the food and gifts themselves. Situations such as these cannot be overlooked because they impact the lives of the children and the family as a whole in a completely negative way.


While some would like to keep AAF the way it is, the second view would be to make some changes. One of the downfalls is that some people are too proud to take charity and it is hard for them to apply in the first place. A change barring donors from directly contacting families could be a possibility but then all the deliveries would be placed back into the hands of Salvation Army, which there is no available time for. Suggestions about just dropping off presents at some type of headquarters were also made but I think that having an idea about a specific person that you’re helping is what draws in more people to donate. "You can just picture the little girl that you're helping or a little boy, a grandmother or a single mother or a family with seven children, It really makes it real"( Reynolds). People want there to be a kind of connection that they can visualize and feel, like they are making a difference in a specific person’s life.


The third view builds off of the problems that formed in the second view. Pride is a big factor when it comes to people asking for help. Even though someone might be in desperate need, there is a possibility that they won’t take help because it would make them feel ashamed. This led me to the discovery of another local organization through Mission Waco. It serves the same challenges that families face during the holidays but approaches it from a different perspective. In the article “Mission Waco Helps Spread Holiday Spirit” by Chad Shanks, Shanks describes something called the annual Christmas Toy store. The Christmas Toy Store provides discounted toys for low-income families. The toys that are sold are completely new and unopened. These toys are donated by the community and are sold for twenty percent of the original price. Mission Waco seeks to “preserve integrity and instill pride in the people who come through [their] program”(Joyce Brammer). Mission Waco wants the parents that shop with them to be able to say that they were the ones who bought Christmas presents for their own children and with their own money. This program actually started out kind of like Adopt-a-Family in the late 90’s but they wanted the parents to be more involved. Parent involvement is something that fosters joy during Christmas. Parents want to feel that they were able to provide for their family and that they were a part of bringing them happiness. Mission Waco also uses the money they make each day to turn around and buy more toys to add to the already donated toys for the next opening. And for those who want a hands-on experience with the families, they are always looking for volunteers to man the store. This way people aren’t just dropping off presents and leaving; people can see their donations being bought by families that desperately need them.


While evaluating the Adopt-a-Family organization I found that, although I had a great experience with it, there are other organizations that are better suited for the problem. Overall, I think that the Christmas Toy Store that is put on by Mission Waco works better for the families and those who donate. Because of the complications that come with AAF like the explicit notes and hesitation to accept that type of help, the Christmas Toy Store is a better way to help those in need. Families are able to buy the gifts themselves for an eighty percent discount and can say that they were the ones that provided them for their families. Pride in being able to provide that support is something that is very important. Also, this is something that these families can do year after year; a family is usually only adopted once through AAF. I fear that with AAF young children wouldn’t fully understand that they were only able to receive all of the presents due to the charity. The next year they might expect the same thing and then be disappointed because there is no way that their family would be able to replicate the things received the year before. That would also put a strain on the parents because they would have to see their children go through that and know that they were not able to provide the same thing for them. With the Christmas Toy Store, families probably wouldn’t be able to buy an excessive amount of presents, but it would be an amount that they would most likely be able to afford the following year, thus creating consistency for their children.



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