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Answering some questions

A few weeks ago, we wrote about how proud we were to be included in Amy Dickinson’s column that offered a roundup of charities she felt were worth donating to.  One of those who commented on her piece articulated some concerns about Christmas in the City. And one of our volunteers responded to the questions the commenter raised. Since we’re pretty sure the the commenter isn’t the only one who may be thinking along these lines, we wanted to share (in slightly edited fashion) the questions and our responses here.

Commenter: I have serious concerns about Christmas in the City. I live in Boston and as a long time volunteer for children in foster care, or who are involved with child protection, I do understand why it’s great for underprivileged families to have some of the advantages of “celebrating the holidays” that more fortunate families take for granted.

However….these families need services, food, clothes, books, toys, all year round and they are in most cases forgotten after the feel-good Christmas event. They return to their deprived circumstances for the next 11 months while organizers and donors return to their much more comfortable circumstances. Christmas in the City says they provide some year round support (not clear what this is from their website), but it seems the major focus is on a the “spectacular, go all-out holiday event” that lasts for hours and is full of thousands of people (and full of sensory overload for susceptible children and adults).

The event includes live entertainment, lots of lights and music, banquet, petting zoo, games, rides, visit from Santa, a bag full of gifts (including gloves and hats, toys) and a personalized gift from the child’s wish list. Health screenings, flu shots, and haircuts are also offered. For many children, especially young ones, this is overload and lasts way too long. For others, it’s great.

I think what would most help these families is a sustained commitment to year round help. Not all charities continue to solicit year round and it’s easy to turn them off when they do. I prefer to donate to sustained support and feel the need every day.

For example, become the diaper person who “adopts” a homeless family and delivers diapers and wipes in the proper size. As often as needed. Or something else, that the shelter does not provide. Anxiety about diaper supply is an enormous stress, and they are not cheap.

CITC Volunteer Response:  I’m one of the thousand+ volunteers with Christmas in the City, and wanted to weigh in on the concerns that the commenter has about the organization. While the main focus is on the Christmas-related activites (the party for homeless kids and the toy distribution for needy families that happens the next day), CITC does, indeed, provide services throughout the year. Adopt-a-Family helps families making the transition from homelessness, or those on the brink of homelessness who may need some day-to-day assistance in order to stay independent. This support can be anything from helping find a plumber to help with opening a bank account to help finding furniture. This is NOT a big formal program – CITC is an all-volunteer organization, with no paid staff – but families are helped through this effort. And early this year, Christmas in the City ran its first job fair. There are plans for another in 2017. Again, all done with volunteers. (Amy used the word “amazing” to describe Christmas in the City, and it is truly amazing what this organization, led by Jake and Sparky Kennedy, is able to accomplish.)

As for the party being overwhelming. Yep, it can be. But it’s held in two large rooms, and those who don’t want to put up with the commotion can – and do – hang out in the room where the meal is served.

Commenter: Christmas in the city on their website calls their event “life changing”. I am certain they believe that and encourage their donors to do so. However, from my decades of work with this population and my adoption of an abused child from foster care, I doubt this happens very often. Some people do sometimes remember “that person who cared” and internalize that and it helps them throughout their lives. But for most people, caring is more than a one time event. A child needs to feel special, cared for, loved, and provided for every day.

CITC Volunteer Response: It would certainly be naive to believe that the Christmas in the City is “life changing” for all/most of the children and parents who attend, but we have heard it from people more than once. And I will note that a number of the volunteers are those who have attended the party, as guests, in the past, and who say that they want to “give back” once they’ve gotten back on their feet.

Commenter: Is it possible to help families who donot celebrate Christmas for religious/cultural reasons?
CITC Volunteer Response: Despite the name, Christmas in the City helps families of all faiths/cultural traditions. (One guest at the party who I spoke with was wearing a hijab.)
Commenter:Thank you for your response, I am glad to get more information about Christmas in the City. I am very interested in the Adopt a Family program, but was unable to find any information abut it on the Christmas in the City website. I am looking for a volunteer opportunity for my family….our one child was adopted from foster care in Boston. Could you tell me how to get the information?
CITC Volunteer Response: Your best bet is to send an email to info@christmasinthecity.org. You can mention and that we “met” on the Washington Post. Someone will get back to you, but it may not be instantaneously. Most of the volunteer opportunities are related to the party and to the gift distribution, but there may be other ways to engage. Also, there will be some info on Adopt a Family on the website in the not so distant future, but it won’t be a lot. As I mentioned, this is not a big formal program – more ad hoc – but still very real.
That’s it for now. Just figured that, if one person had some questions about Christmas in the City, other folks may have them, too.