Ginger Mahon has high standards for The Wish List Project, but she has yet to be disappointed by the generosity of residents of Great Falls.
"This is a class act," said Mahon. "I insist that everything has to be new and that they have to do a good job, and every year, everybody blows my mind."
Mahon started The Wish List Project six years ago when she discovered Embry Rucker Community Shelter in Reston.
"My oldest daughter was in kindergarten at Forestville [Elementary School], and every Friday they had to bring a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to the Embry Rucker Shelter," said Mahon. "When I realized there was a shelter in the next town over, I called them up because I had always wanted to help out in some way."
The Wish List Project was the result of that phone call. Every Christmas, Mahon collects a wish list from the teenagers at Embry Rucker and finds a Great Falls family that is willing to be responsible for that wish list. Mahon says that most of the teens want gift cards, but she tells all of her participants to include extra presents.
"We beef up all of the baskets," said Mahon.
According to Emma Marshall, a community educator with Fairfax County Foster Care and Adoption, teens are often forgotten in holiday charity programs. Marshall says she likes that The Wish List Program adds a personal touch to charity while also involving parents and children.
"One year we had one boy ask for a boom box, and the mom said she was just going to buy anything, but her son said 'no mom, this is the one that they would want,'" said Marshall. "So you have the whole family participating and you have kids participating with kids."
Mahon, who has two children at Forestville Elementary School, says that 85 percent of her donors come from Forestville families because that is where she puts the word out about her program.
"But as the project has grown, Embry Rucker has suggested to people that they contact me, so I get some that way as well," said Mahon.
THE WISH LIST PROGRAM has actually grown beyond Embry Rucker as well. Joe Meyer worked at Embry Rucker for five years, but recently took a Director position at The Shelter House in Falls Church. When Mahon found out that Meyer was leaving, she inquired about opportunities to help out at his new post.
"What really impressed me about Ginger is that we didn't approach her — she came to me," said Meyer. "We always struggle as social services and shelters to reach out to the community and get help."
The Shelter House is a family-only shelter which only houses families of five or more.
"That was a challenge for Ginger, but she had no problem fulfilling all of their wishes," said Meyer.
This year, Mahon collected 75 gift packages for foster care teens, 30 gift packages for nine families at Embry Rucker, 32 gift packages for seven families at The Shelter House, and 28 gift packages for homeless men and women.
Emma Marshall says that even with the added charities, Mahon has not faltered in the quality of her program.
"Even though it has grown, it has not taken away from our original shelter," said Marshall. "Actually, she's increased [donations] which is really fantastic for us."
*If you are interested in participating in The Wish List Project, or would like more information, please contact Ginger Mahon at firstname.lastname@example.org.