When the Voluntary Action Center began its Christmas basket program 20 years ago, it provided for about 200 families. This year, more than 1,100 families are ready to be adopted.
Now they just need sponsors.
VAC workers and volunteers spent nine days in October registering families eligible to receive Christmas baskets. To be eligible, families must live in Boone County, meet federal poverty guidelines and provide proper identification for each member of the family.
The registering process is complete. Finding more sponsors is the next step.
Sponsoring a family
Cindy Mustard, VAC’s executive director, is confident there will be enough sponsors to provide gifts for every family. The goal is for everyone to have a sponsor by Thanksgiving, Mustard said.
“I would imagine we probably have half of our sponsors already,” Mustard said. “We are definitely on our way.”
Sponsors are responsible for purchasing at least one new gift for each family member and the makings of a holiday meal. The baskets are delivered by the sponsor in mid-December to Trinity Presbyterian Church and picked up by the family at a later date. The process is anonymous to maintain the dignity and confidentiality of the recipients.
Sharing the Christmas spirit
The Christmas basket program not only helps needy families, but it also brings area churches, businesses and individuals together to share, Mustard said.
“We touch close to 4,000 people,” she said. “We don’t profess to do all of their Christmas, but we do fulfill some of their basic needs.”
Donating Christmas baskets can also be a learning tool for children, Mustard said. She especially likes when a family signs up and requests similar-sized families to adopt and get their children involved.
“It’s an eye-opener for young people,” she said. “They begin to see that not everyone has everything.”
Susan McQuilkin has been involved with VAC for about 10 years. She began as a volunteer, became a basket sponsor and is now on the board of directors. She said it has become one of the most important things in her life. She describes helping as both addictive and rewarding.
“It’s fun to shop for other people,” McQuilkin said. “This year, I’m sponsoring an elderly gentleman who loves to fish.”
Helping beyond the baskets
There are other ways to get involved aside from sponsoring a family, Mustard said.
Attorney Jean Goldstein and other female attorneys around Columbia gather each year to collect for VAC in a different way: They throw an annual Christmas party, and everyone brings a gift for a teenage girl.
“It is a fun gathering and a way to do something for young people,” Goldstein said.
The VAC also needs volunteers to help with the distribution of gifts in December. Ellie Gardner, 19, has been helping with the Christmas baskets for the past three years. She keeps volunteering because it is rewarding to see the looks on the families’ faces when they receive their gifts.
“It makes Christmas more than just thinking about ourselves,” Gardner said.
Companies or individuals interested in becoming a VAC holiday sponsor or volunteer, can call 449-6959 or 874-2273.