“So much time and so little to do. Wait a minute. Strike that. Reverse it.” — Willy Wonka
Holiday assistance volunteers everywhere know what it means to have much to do and little time, and Our Neighbor’s Child volunteers are no exception.
This year will mark the 27th holiday season that ONC has coordinated the collection and distribution of holiday gifts for more than 700 western Fairfax families. Planning begins in the summer and school counselors and social workers begin referring families in September, but the clock really starts once the intake ends in November.
Jen McGee’s students from Stone Middle School are among the first to “report” for their ONC duties. Each year they have the important task of making more than 5,000 ornaments that will hold the label with a child’s wish on it. “I’ve had a great group of kids this year, between 8-16 each week working hard to reach that goal of 5,000 ornaments. A 9th grader spent 7 hours over the weekend to make sure the last 350 were done.”
During that week, Nicole Rogers (ONC’s leader of Data Management) scrambles to verify the last of the family referrals, checking for duplication with other local organizations and entering the wishes into the database. By the end of the week Virginia Run resident Lisa Rennyson hosts a “labeling party” where her son Jay and his friends make sure the labels are firmly attached and sorted into bags for over 50 ONC Giving Partners: local schools, churches and businesses who distribute them to the generous supporters who will donate the gifts.
Keeping in touch with the Giving Partners are Burke resident Kathleen McDonald (Businesses) and Haymarket resident Diane Church (Schools and Churches). Hundreds of emails go back and forth in just a few weeks in order to coordinate this giving effort.
ONC has no paid staff and all public donations go directly to items delivered to a child in need. Any overhead (office space, copy paper, ink, etc.) are paid by ONC’s founding partners. To make the best use of its donations, ONC leverages its non-profit status to benefit from programs like Helmets R Us and Firstbook to purchase items at a discount. Fewer book purchases will be necessary again this year thanks to Barnes & Noble at Fair Lakes who have made Our Neighbor’s Child the designated recipient of their holiday book drive for the second season in a row. Diane Church wears a second volunteer hat and coordinates the book giving for ONC. “We really appreciate the Barnes and Noble customers who contribute a book through this effort and we hope they appreciate knowing that the books will be delivered to deserving children from schools near the Fair Lakes store.”
ONC accepts referrals from schools in Centreville, Chantilly, Clifton and Fairfax (Fair Lakes).
Each year ONC leadership begins the season “homeless” in the sense that it must find a new empty warehouse building with owners who will agree to its temporary occupancy for the purpose of sorting and packaging the gifts for nearly 2,000 local children. The location is provided to volunteers (and not published) as the location is only approved for staging and not a family pick-up location. Coach Kyle Simmons and his staff work alongside Westfield’s football team as they help ONC unload tables, chairs and other equipment necessary to the effort. The next afternoon Coach Verbanic’s football team from Flint Hill in Oakton helps move the equipment into place and help with other needed set-up while a group from Westfield’s Interact Club kicks off the decorating. Students from Westfield, Chantilly and Centreville High School make up the warehouse “labor” force year after year.
Leadership students from all three schools’ Student Government classes fill various roles within the warehouse as the gifts begin to arrive. They help unload the gifts from the Giving Partners and take them to Braddock Ridge’s Karen Fiala and her team at “Ground Zero.” Gifts are checked and tags are secured before they go to “Receiving” where ONC’s John O’Neill leads a team equipped with scanners to record each gift’s arrival. O’Neill is the architect of ONC’s custom software that has made it possible to continue running an assistance operation on this scale with so many personalized wish details.
There are opportunities for members of the community to join in Set-Up Day (Sunday, Dec. 9 from 12-2 p.m.) Packaging Day (Thursday, Dec. 14 in shifts starting at 9 a.m. and lasting all day) and Delivery (Sunday, Dec. 16) from 1-4 p.m. More details are available on the ONC website (www.ourneighborschild.org).
Families wishing to support a local child’s wish (and aren’t affiliated with one our local Giving Partners) can find ONC ornaments on trees at the Chantilly and Fair Lakes Walmart. General gifts are being collected at Rocky Run Middle School on Saturday, Dec. 8, from 9-11 a.m. Ourisman Chantilly Toyota has also offered to serve as an ONC Gift Drop Off location beginning Dec. 1.
ONC provides gifts for children as long as they are enrolled in school, and the most requested gift for teens is clothes. Recognizing that the best gift for a teen is the opportunity to try on and choose that gift themselves, ONC is trying to provide as many gift cards as they can with the funds they raise. Anyone willing to sponsor a $25 gift card for a grateful teen can click Donate on the ONC website for information on PayPal, Venmo and the mailing address for checks.
ONC has seen a slight reduction in the number of families requesting assistance in the last two years, but there are still some very dire circumstances among those on this year’s list. Several homeless families are hoping to have a permanent address before we deliver, and a family with a child with a brain tumor diagnosis and, beyond the emotional impact, the financial impact is looming.
Many families on the ONC list are making ends meet on a monthly basis, but struggle with the added expenses of the holiday season. ONC volunteers are grateful for the opportunity to provide a little stress relief for the parents and holiday joy for their children. It’s a big job in a small amount of time, but something our caring community has succeeded in doing for 26 years. We are looking forward to another great season and we can get it done. We just need a little help from “our neighbors.”
How to Help
Saturday, Dec. 8: from 9 a.m.-11, General gifts are being collected at Rocky Run Middle School outside Door 1. Ourisman Chantilly Toyota, 4135 Auto Park Circle in Chantilly, has also offered to serve as an ONC gift drop-off location, beginning Dec. 1.
Sunday, Dec. 9: Set-Up Day – from noon-2 p.m.
Thursday, Dec. 14: Packaging Day – in shifts starting at 9 a.m. and lasting all day.
Sunday, Dec. 16: Delivery Day – from 1-4 p.m.
More details are available on the ONC website at www.ourneighborschild.org.
Families wishing to support a local child’s wish (and who aren’t affiliated with ONC’s local giving partners) can find them on ONC ornaments on trees at the Chantilly and Fair Lakes Walmart.
ONC provides gifts for children enrolled in school, and the most requested gift for teens is clothes. But teens prefer to try on and choose things for themselves, so ONC is trying to provide as many gift cards as possible with the funds it raises. Anyone willing to sponsor a $25 gift card for a teenager may click “Donate” on the ONC website for information on PayPal, Venmo and the mailing address for checks.