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How to Contribute to 'Our Neighbor's Child'

Q&A With Kelly Lavin.

Our Neighbor's Child is preparing for it's 15th year of providing holiday gifts to children from struggling families in western Fairfax. Along with Ways & Means (WFCM) which provides food baskets, ONC provided brand new gifts to more than 1,500 local children last year and they expect to serve more this year. ONC's executive director has put together a list of answers to some commonly asked questions below:

Q: What is Our Neighbor's Child and what do they do?

A: Our Neighbor's Child is the local nonprofit (501c) organization that coordinates holiday assistance for children from low-income families in western Fairfax. Our 24 project leaders coordinate the generous efforts of local schools, churches, businesses and individuals who make this effort possible.

Q: I'd like to become an Our Neighbor's Child volunteer — how do I get started?

A: New faces are always welcome at ONC (and we really appreciate the returning ones!). We will be serving more families this year than ever before, and we need all the help we can get! Please visit our Web site at http://www.ourneighborschild.org. Many of the things we need help with are posted there, along with the e-mail address of the project leader in charge of each event. If you have questions, ask any one of our project leaders and they can always forward your e-mail to the appropriate person.

Q: Where does ONC need help most?

A: We are in desperate need of families willing to "adopt" another family and fulfill their clothing wishes. ONC is only able to provide new clothing for a limited number of families at this time. These are predominantly older children and teens who have not asked for toys or other gifts, or families in unusually dire circumstances. Tracy McInturff is our Project Leader in charge of Clothing (GMFamily1@aol.com) and she works tirelessly each year trying to match our families with clothing needs with donor families.

Q: We have an ONC Giving Tree at our church, but why are the deadlines so early?

A: Our first priority, along with providing for the children, is to relieve a little stress for these struggling families. We always deliver on the latest possible Sunday that would still leave a week before Christmas. Once that date is determined, our packaging date is set for the week before, which means the gifts need to be collected on that preceding Sunday. In order to deliver on Dec. 17th this year, we need to collect the gifts on Dec. 10th. We could not possibly meet the needs of all these families without the help provided through these Giving Trees.

Q: Does ONC need donations? Where should I send a check?

A: We have a great need for donations this year and we use these funds to fill in the gaps when a wished for item is not brought in through one of the Giving Trees. Checks may be sent to Our Neighbor's Child (c/o Karen Moore, Treasurer) P.O. Box 276, Centreville, VA 20120.

Q: How much of my donation will actually be used for gifts?

A: Every penny. For every one of our 14 years, ONC has had no paid staff, and we beg, borrow or take out of our own pockets for any supplies we need to get the job done.

Q: How is a family eligible for assistance from ONC?

A: Fairfax County’s Department of Human Services meets annually with representatives from the organizations that provide holiday assistance. They divide the serving areas according to ZIP code. ONC and WFCM serve the same ZIP codes in Centreville (20120, 20121), Chantilly (20150, 20151, 20152), Clifton (20124) and Fairfax west of Fair Oaks Mall (22033, 22039).

Q: What is the criteria for receiving holiday assistance?

A: Families in need may apply through their Fairfax County social worker or their school guidance counselors. The majority of the families have qualified for assistance through Fairfax County’s free and reduced price lunch program. The guidelines are available on-line at the FCPS Web site. We also receive referrals from Ways & Means (WFCM) for families who have qualified to use their food pantry and may have children not yet in school.

Q: My high school son/daughter needs to earn volunteer hours. What are good activities for this age group?

A: We love our student volunteers! Our Web site is a great way to find and sign up for these opportunities, but here are a few: Sunday, Dec. 10 from 4:30-6 p.m. is a great time for students to help. We will be unloading toys from trucks, sorting and setting up for the packaging team. Another big day that we’ll need help is during the week that schools are out. On Wednesday, Dec. 27 from 1-3 p.m., we will need many helping hands as we move out of our donated warehouse space.

Q: We delivered gifts to a family and they don't celebrate Christmas. Why is that?

A: Our Neighbor’s Child is a community-based rather than faith-based organization. While a large portion of the families we serve celebrates Christmas, we recognize that there are struggling families of all faiths. We want to help the children who are in need, whether it's a Christmas gift, Hanukah gift, Kwanzaa gift or Ramadan gift. This is the one time of year we are able to give them a little extra help.

Q:  Our Neighbor's Child seems to grow every year.  How big will it get?

A:  We've never really wanted to get "bigger" in terms of families we serve.  We'd love to see many of these families reach income levels that would keep them from struggling.  We plan to keep our serving area the same and just continue to work toward improving the "system". We served about 525 families last year, and we projected 600 for this year, but our numbers are nearing that already.  This year is going to be a real challenge for us.

Q: I have some suggestions and ideas for ONC. Where do I send them?

A: We’d love to hear from you! ONC will only be as successful as the feedback we receive from the community. In an all-volunteer effort of this size, there’s always room for improvement. As you participate, your feedback is critical to any adjustments we can make in the “off-season”. Send your ideas and suggestions via e-mail to KMLavin@aol.com, or address them to ONC at P.O. Box 276, Centreville, VA 20120.

Q. How many volunteers/donors are involved in this program?

A. We have so many incredibly generous people involved in ONC and there are so many ways to help. All phases combined, we have more than 400 volunteers who donate their time and energy to make this program work. We also have approximately 45 local businesses and individuals who donate gifts and money to this project. Every contribution, both large and small, is what makes this program possible. The response that we get from everyone is so inspiring. People in this community really care about their neighbors.