Program is ‘Christmas miracle’ for those in need

| Jennifer Janikula | November 7, 2013 | 0 Comments
Sponsor A Family uses nearly 300 warehouse volunteers every December to receive, process and distribute donations. Many volunteers like Mark Scheidhauer, left, and Patton Hafforth, right, return each year to share the joy of Christmas with those in need.  Photo submitted

Sponsor A Family uses nearly 300 warehouse volunteers every December to receive, process and distribute donations. Many volunteers like Mark Scheidhauer, left, and Patton Hafforth, right, return each year to share the joy of Christmas with those in need. Photo submitted

Now that the clocks have fallen back and the calendar has flipped to November, we are officially entering the “holiday season.” TV commercials, Internet ads and newspaper inserts call us to excess — more food, more gifts, more gadgets.

We are persuaded to “want” more.

But many people are searching for alternative holiday traditions — ways to shift the focus and share the spirit of giving with those who are truly in need.

Organizations like Sponsor A Family help people extend their reach beyond family and friends to serve strangers. Each year, the organization recruits sponsors who purchase gifts for families that are struggling with basic needs. The family wish lists commonly include items like boots, winter coats, snow pants and blankets.

Mary Shimshock, a member of Holy Name of Jesus in Wayzata, has been a Sponsor A Family volunteer for more than 20 years and currently serves on the organization’s leadership team. She credits the continued success of the organization to the generosity of the community.

People are eager to make a difference in the lives of others, she said.

“This program brings out the best in people,” Shimshock said. “It’s a great example of what is working in our communities. From our business partners who donate warehouse space and trucks, to sponsors from churches, businesses or individual families. Each year the program is its own Christmas miracle.”

Helping many

The Sponsor A Family program had its beginnings more than 35 years ago as a program of Catholic Charities. It is now an independent program and has partnered with the Sisters of St. Joseph Carondelet Ministries and Risen Christ School in Minneapolis.

It relies on partner organizations to identify families in need. The program serves a wide variety of people, including refugees, immigrants, trafficked and tortured women, and families from inner-city Catholic schools.

Many of this year’s families will come to Sponsor A family via the Learning in Style program directed by Sister Agnes Foley of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. It serves nearly 400 adult immigrants each year from 20 to 30 different countries and emphasizes literacy and citizenship skills.

When the leadership team at Sponsor a Family asked Sister Agnes how many of her students’ families were struggling with basic needs she said, “I can’t think of any that don’t have needs. They are at the bottom of the chain for everything — employment opportunities, housing, education. They are adapting to a new country.”

Sponsor A Family will serve 175 Learning in Style students and their families, which amounts to 750 people.

Bob Spinner, a member of the Sponsor A Family leadership team and parishioner at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, enjoys the stories he hears from both sides of the program. The sponsors — families, churches and companies — use the experience to build a tradition of giving back, and those who receive the gifts are so appreciative.

The gift pick-up days are very rewarding, Spinner said.

“It’s great for the whole family,” he said. “The kids are so excited to choose a wooden toy or new mittens donated by companies, and the families write thank you notes to their sponsors in many different languages.”

Sponsor A Family hopes to help 2,500 people this holiday season. To learn how you can help, visit the Sponsor A Family website, e-mail, or call (612) 849-6770.

Four ways to help local families in need

Sponsor A Family has been serving families in need for more than 35 years. The success of its holiday giving program relies on generous contributions of time, talent and treasure from hundreds of individuals, families and corporations. Here are four ways to support this volunteer-run organization:

Sponsor a family

  • Sign up: Visit the Sponsor A Family website and click on “Sign Up to Sponsor a Family.” Select the number of people that you would like to sponsor.
  • Receive wish list: When the sponsor/client matching process is complete, sponsors receive a “wish list” with 2-3 items per client.
  • Shop: The suggested cash outlay is $65 plus a $10 food gift card per individual.
  • Drop off gifts: Sponsors deliver gifts to the Sponsor A Family warehouse in St. Paul on Wednesday, Dec. 11 or Thursday, Dec. 12.

Work at the warehouse

Anyone 13 or older is welcome to volunteer at the Sponsor A Family warehouse during the month of December. Individuals, families and corporate teams work together to receive donations from sponsors, prepare donations for families and distribute donations.

Donate emergency gifts

Some families and corporations prefer to supply specific products to the families. In the past, groups have sponsored mitten drives or blanket drives. Other groups have supplied sheet sets or wooden toys. These items are often used as emergency gifts for families in need that did not submit a wish list.

Make a monetary donation

Tax deductible donations can be made to Sponsor A Family/Risen Christ School and sent to: Sponsor A Family MN, P.O. box 582793, Minneapolis, MN 55458.

Share your thoughts

The Catholic Spirit is looking for story ideas for its “What Works” series.

We want to hear from parishes and schools about an idea, plan, project or program that is currently showing successful results. Submitters should explain the purpose of the initiative and outline the steps that led to success.

Our goal is to give parishes and schools an opportunity to share ideas for doing ministry more effectively and/or more efficiently.

  • Email your story idea to:
  • Or mail your idea to: “What Works,” c/o The Catholic Spirit, 244 Dayton Ave., St. Paul, MN 55102.

Please include your name, parish and daytime telephone number.

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Category: What Works