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Giving Away Christmas

Great Falls students and families make Christmas dreams come true.

More than 150 people have a Christmas morning to look forward to because of Ginger Mahon. Several years ago she started a tradition at Forestville Elementary of "adopting" a family in need of assistance, living at Emery Rucker Community Shelter in Reston. This year Mahon and her elves will supply 75 foster-care teens with the gifts of their dreams, 14 families with presents, and 38 homeless men and women with baskets and gift bags of useful items.

"It’s become a really meaningful experience. People come in, and they go way beyond what we’ve asked them to do," said Mahon. This year one young woman in foster care asked that Mahon’s program get her a nail polish kit. The Forestville family who was buying her gift this year bought her a deluxe nail polish and manicure set.

Bud Thompson and his wife, Joyce, say the experience of buying gifts for those that might otherwise have nothing on Christmas is so fulfilling they return year after year to buy presents for people they don’t know and who will never have the opportunity to thank them for their generosity.

"It’s more fun buying for someone who needs it. To me, it gives Christmas more value," said Bud Thompson.

THIS YEAR WAS the biggest Christmas family event so far. "This year I said I’d bite off 75," said Mahon of the foster-care teens. This group is most in need of presents for the household and for their future because they will soon reach 18 and age out of the foster-care system. Most of these teens find themselves on their own without the basic necessities to run a household. Many showed a practicality belying their age and asked for items such as microwaves and sets of pots and pans.

"We gave them a cap of $75 dollars and said what would be the one gift they’d be so happy to have under the tree," said Mahon. Her contact at the shelter then made up a list with the youths’ name, age and gift they longed for. Mahon in turn matched a child in foster care with a family wanting to help out.

Mahon has been growing the project every year, and word of mouth has helped spread the idea through the school and through the community. The Thompsons, for example, read about it in a local newspaper and decided to get involved. Forestville’s program has been so successful over the past few years that Emery Rucker now refers people directly to Mahon when they contact the shelter.

Joyce Thompson, who lives with her husband in Great Falls, said, "People would do more if they knew about it."

Mahon holds a party every year to wrap and collect the gifts. She transforms her home into Santa’s Workshop, complete with candy canes and sweets for the elementary-school children who come and hors d’oeuvre for the adults. This year there was even a band playing Christmas music in the living room to set the mood. "People want to do it, so it’s fun," said Mahon.

Bud Thompson claims it helps his family to set the tone for the holidays and to remember what’s really important. "Giving it away, even to people you don’t know, makes it feel more like Christmas," he said.