JF & amp;CS holds Hanukkah toy drive

Giving and receiving gifts during the holidays seems almost automatic for most families. Whether or not new items are needed, they are given, sometimes met with sincere joy and sometimes with feigned enthusiasm. However, many families in our area cannot afford to give gifts, even to their children. Jewish Family & Children’s Service (JF &CS) offers help to families in need year round, and somewhere along the lines they realized that, if parents struggle to feed their families throughout the year, most likely they struggle to give them gifts during the holidays. Thus the organization created the Hanukkah Hugs and Adopt A Family Programs.

Now in its 11th year, Hanukkah Hugs is a toy drive that collects gifts for children whose families are clients of JF &CS’ food pantry or counseling services, ensuring that those children receive a new toy for the holidays. Toys are collected in decorated boxes at about 20 area locations, including temples and synagogues, businesses and social service agencies, and at JF &CS. The items are then sorted by volunteers who help distribute age-appropriate toys to clients in need.

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Started in 1994, Adopt A Family was developed as a way for area synagogues to help families at Hanukkah with their individual needs. Via a social worker, children’s sizes and toy choices are communicated through an anonymous story which is written about the family and passed onto the congregation. Toys, clothes, household items and


even funds for rent and utilities are brought to the synagogue and then delivered to JF &CS for distribution, and gifts are not limited to immediate families. “Regardless of who is the primary caregiver, ” says Sherry Hartz, Financial Assistance Care Manager for JF &CS, “we adapt the program to fit the needs of the family. ” Throughout the years, a variety of clubs, organizations and individuals have also adopted families for the holidays. In 2006, 30 families were helped, including 75 children. One synagogue alone adopted 16 families. Since most families are already clients of the agency’s food pantry or financial assistance program, Hartz is easily able to identify and reach out to eligible participants.

Often included on the list of requested items are winter coats and other warm clothes, books, educational toys, stuffed animals and pajamas. “When prompted, ” says Hartz, “most families realize that they are also in need of bed linens, towels and blankets. ” Gift cards, such as from Target or American Express, also make wonderful gifts when the donating party has limited time to shop.

As the holidays come to a close, and program coordinators find themselves with more than they were able to use, Hanukkah Hugs toys are given out for birthdays or donated to other charities. Adopt A Family places any unused funds into a special account, used to assist families in other ways after the 1st of the year. Ellen Sabin, Program Assistant for the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food Pantry at JF &CS says, “The families are so appreciative of these donations and overwhelmed by the generosity of our

donors. We get everything from thank you notes to tears of joy. ” These programs make


it possible for families, who would otherwise lack the resources, to give and receive new gifts during the holidays. For more information, please call Ellen Sabin 314.812.9309.