Last week, as gifts piled up in her Great Falls home, Ginger Mahon tried to keep track of the number of people who would receive presents from the Holiday Wish List Project this year. She stopped counting after she hit 238.
"I just lost count," said Mahon, who is the current president of the Forestville Elementary School Parent Teacher Association. "It got to the point where it just didn't matter anymore."
Mahon created the Holiday Wish List Project seven years ago, after deciding that she wanted to find a way to reach out to families, teens and children in foster care during the holiday season. When she contacted the Fairfax County Foster Care offices and asked how she could help, Mahon was provided with "wish lists" from teens in the county's foster care system. In addition, the county put Mahon in touch with the Reston Interfaith Embry Rucker Community Shelter, and she was provided with wish lists from families staying there.
Mahon immediately went to work. She sent out community mailers about the project, and asked for help from the other families at Forestville Elementary School. Local families who signed up for the project were assigned a family or a teen, and were then given the correlating wish list. Sponsors shopped for the items on their specific lists, wrapped the purchases and dropped them at Mahon's house on the designated date. Over the last seven years the Holiday Wish List Project has seen continued growth and success.
"The first year we had 10 families, last year we had 46, and this year I stopped counting," said Mahon.
THIS YEAR, Mahon added St. Ann's Infant and Maternity Home to the project.
"Ginger just called me out of the blue and said, 'this is what I do, can I help?'" said Sr. Mary Bader, administrator at St. Ann's.
Bader was delighted to accept Mahon's assistance and was impressed when Mahon took the time to visit the St. Ann's facilities in Hyattsville, Md. Bader told Mahon that St. Ann's has specific, ongoing needs such as baby formula, diapers, clothing and toys.
"Since we have over 300 kids, whatever we get at Christmas we try and stretch out over the year," said Bader. "When children come to us they usually have nothing but what they are wearing, so we like to present them with some new clothing and a new toy, and we also do the same when they leave."
In addition to providing gift packages for St. Ann's, this year's Holiday Wish List Project provided presents for 11 families in crisis at the Embry Rucker Community Shelter, 28 single adults in crisis at Embry Rucker, and 75 teens in the Fairfax County Foster Care system. In addition, Mahon collected a significant number of gift cards for donation to St. Ann's.
"I am just overwhelmed by the generosity that Ginger has been able to scrounge up," said Judith Eisen, Community Resource coordinator at Embry Rucker.
Since Eisen has only been with Embry Rucker since April, this was her first experience with the Holiday Wish List Project.
LAST SATURDAY, Dec. 16, in keeping with her usual tradition, Mahon hosted a festive party on the day that families dropped off gifts at her home. Despite the fact that her house was filled with adults, children, food and presents, Mahon had a succinct drop-off system — gifts for Embry Rucker families and Fairfax County Foster Care teens in the basement, and gifts for St. Ann's in the garage. Each area was clearly marked with yellow signs, and Mahon even had a room cordoned off for wrapping, for those who did not have the chance to wrap their gifts beforehand. Local restaurant PizzaRama provided some of the food for Mahon as well.
"I really like the whole idea of how Ginger has gotten friends and neighbors involved in all of this and made it fun," said Bader. "I think she must be the most organized woman in the world."
Bader said she also admired Mahon for her efforts to include teenagers in her project as "they are always the ones who are the least thought of, if they are thought of at all."
"This really is a great cause," said Ken Sweeney.
Sweeney's wife has been involved with the Holiday Wish List Project for several years, but Sweeney said this was the first time he had actually had the chance to come to Mahon's house for the drop-off.
"It's so nice and organized, and when you see the names of all the people and family members on each of the boxes — at least for me — it kind of makes it more real," said Sweeney.
Malou Rennert and her daughter Jessica Rennert stopped by with packages for their assigned family of five. Jessica Rennert is currently a student at Cooper Middle School, but Malour Rennert said they still participate in the Holiday Wish List Project even though Jessica is no longer at Forestville.
"It's for a good cause, and in this area we are so blessed that we need to think of other people that are not as lucky," said Malou Rennert.
This year, the Rennert's bought a microwave oven, dishes, pots and pans, an air hockey table and gift cards for their family.
"It's fun to go shopping," said Malou Rennert. "It feels great."