This week, holiday packages are going out to 157 people whose lives could use a little brightening, thanks to an area program called Christmas for the Kids.
Something for the Kids began in 2006 as a program to provide clothing and other needed items to children being taken into foster care by the Walworth County Department of Health and Human Services, according to volunteer Susan Bell. It quickly evolved into including all families receiving services from DHHS and those in need.
The program is housed at St John in the Wilderness Episcopal Church, 13 S. Church St. in Elkhorn, where it has gradually taken up the church basement. New and gently used clothing, infant supplies, and household items, toys, books, toiletries and more are collected throughout the year, and distributed to families in need. Matheson Memorial Library/community center participates by collecting items in bins right inside the door to make it easy for people to donate.
In its second year, Something for the Kids added Christmas for the Kids. From six families in 2007, it has grown to 40 families in 2015. Each person in each family receives at least one large bag of new gifts as well as used clothing, shoes, books and more. Families also receive food boxes and gift cards for food or gas.
In 2015, 161 people were helped. This year Bell said 37 families were helped, though the number grows.
“We actually got three emergency cases (Dec. 13),” she said.
Bell said program volunteers are from every walk of life and participate by “adopting” people, donating items throughout the year, wrapping packages, shopping and giving cash donations—even tins of homemade cookies “from bakers all over town,” Bell said. In Elkhorn, even organizations have joined in the effort: the Reindeer Run and 4-H do food drives.
Real Estate agents and staff at Keefe Real Estate--which has offices in Elkhorn, Lake Geneva and Burlington--have been donating gifts to area foster children for over two decades.
“About 25 years ago, when I was the managing broker at Keefe and my daughter, Charlotte, was in junior high school, she had a friend who went into foster care," said Lael Vandenburgh, a broker who has worked at Keefe for almost 30 years. "He seemed to be having a positive experience, and yet I wondered what would happen at Christmas. Would he receive gifts from his foster family? I really had no idea how the system worked, but he was a nice boy and so I contacted the head of Walworth County Foster Care.”
Lael discovered the children in the foster care program did not receive Christmas gifts at that time. While some foster families could afford to be generous with their kids, others didn't have the resources.
“It broke my heart,” says Lael. She said that was when she asked the Keefe agents if they would like to play Santa and make the holidays special for foster kids in the community.
This year Keefe employees bought gifts for 47 foster kids.
Employees from Department of Health and Human Services pick up and deliver all of the packages before Christmas and even stay to tidy up, Bell said. “Many volunteers consider their participation in this event as the best way to put them in the Christmas spirit,” she added.
People start purchasing items during the January sales and bring them all year. Items can also be dropped at the bin in the library starting again in January.