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Q&A With Our Neighbor's Child Founder

Our Neighbor's Child volunteers are preparing for their 16th year of providing holiday gifts to children from struggling families in western Fairfax.

Along with WFCM (Western Fairfax Christian Ministries)which provides food baskets, ONC was responsible for the coordination and delivery of brand new holiday gifts to more than 1,500 local children last year and they expect to serve at least as many this year. ONC's executive director has

put together a list of answers to some frequently 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, or those in temporary crisis in western Fairfax. Our all volunteer team of 24 project leaders coordinate the

generous efforts of the community: local schools, churches, businesses and

individuals who make this effort possible.

Q: I'd like to help – how can I become an Our Neighbor's Child volunteer?

A: New faces are always welcome at ONC (and we really appreciate the

returning ones!). We will be serving a large number of families and we need all the help we can get! Please visit our

Web site at http://www.ourneighborschild.org. Many of the activities 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 general questions, send an e-mail to ONCVolunteer@gmail.com and we’ll be sure to forward it to the appropriate Project Leader.

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. While ONC is committed to providing gifts to every child in need in our serving area, we are 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

families with critical clothing needs with donor families.

Q: We have an ONC Giving Tree at our church, but the December 9th deadline seems so early. Why is that?

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 by

that preceding Sunday. In order to deliver on Dec. 16th this year, we

need to collect the gifts on Dec. 9th. We are deeply grateful to those who select ornaments and grant the wishes of these children. It’s the combined efforts of the community that make this effort possible. It’s our privilege as ONC volunteers to coordinate these efforts and ensure that the gifts arrive safely and in plenty of time for the holidays.

Q: I’ve noticed that some of the children request gift cards. It seems so much nicer to get them an actual gift.

A: Kathy Sposa, our ONC Program Director who coordinates our callers and packaging team explains: "One of our biggest requests for older children is for gift cards. We know that they are not the fun gift to give because they seem impersonal, but this particular gift gives these children a chance to be like other kids in so many ways. They get to go into a store and purchase a "new" item of their choice. They get the gift of "freedom of choice"..something other kids take for granted. They can possibly choose an article of clothing that is their personal taste, color and style. They enjoy the shopping experience, and in many cases, they use this gift card after the holidays when everything is on sale, so your gift can do much more."

Q: Are monetary donations needed? Where would I send a contribution?

A: Donations to ONC are used to purchase gifts for urgent last-minute requests, or to fill in the gaps when a wished for item does not arrive from one of our Giving Tree locations. Donations of any size are greatly appreciated and checks to ONC 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. We’ve always had an all-volunteer (non-paid) staff and all program expenses are donated by our founding partners to ensure that your donation will go directly to the purchase of a toy or clothing item for a child in need.

Q: What is the ONC serving area?

A: Fairfax County Department of Human Services coordinate an annual meeting of representatives from all organizations who provide holiday assistance (ONC, WFCM, Salvation Army, Toys for Tots, FACETS and others)in an effort to coordinate these services. 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: How does a family apply for holiday assistance?

A: Families in need should contact their child’s school guidance counselor or their Fairfax County social worker to be referred to the volunteer group serving their area. Generally families qualify with income levels based on the FCPS free and reduced price lunch program. The guidelines are available on-line at the FCPS Web site. ONC also receives referrals from 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. 9th 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. We also need cookie bakers, ornament makers, and students who encourage their families to help with delivery day on December 16th.

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 the majority of families we serve celebrate Christmas, we recognize that there are struggling families from all faiths. We want to serve the children who are in need regardless of background and 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 our efforts. With the outstanding support of the community we were able to serve over 600 families last year and we are on track for a similar number this season.

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

A: We'd love to hear from you! Feedback from the community has been an integral part of ONC’s success and we welcome your thoughts and ideas. In an all-volunteer effort of his size, there's always room for improvement. As you participate,your feedback is critical to any adjustments we can make in the"off-season". Please 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?

A. We have so many incredibly generous people involved in ONC and

there are 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 critical to this program’s success. We are especially grateful for the support of Washington Real Estate Investment Trust who have generously provided our toy packaging space for the past five seasons.

Q: How else can businesses help?

A: ONC needs a few local businesses willing to host an ONC toy collection box or local restaurants willing to support our volunteers with refreshments on any of our longer activity days. And we have an urgent need for tables during the week of December 9-16th. Please contact KMLavin@aol.com if you can help!

Q. Any other thoughts from ONC volunteers?

A. Our callers are reporting that there is no one "portrait" of a family in need. We’ve heard from grandmothers struggling to care for children while their fathers serve in Iraq, families struggling due to the high costs of raising children with disabilities and families who’ve lost homes and are living temporarily with others. We’re concerned that our donor base may be impacted by tougher economic times but are hopeful that our combined efforts will help us provide a brighter holiday for the local children who need it most.