Families Helping Families mourns longtime volunteer, scales back in 2020 because of pandemic

Published: Nov. 13, 2020 at 7:08 AM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - It’s that time of the year again. Now in its 30th year, Families Helping Families is once again calling on the Midlands community to help all families enjoy the holiday season.

They are having to make some changes this year, though, because of the pandemic. This includes scaling back.

Last year, there were more than 3,600 families adopted through Families Helping Families. This year, they’re aiming for around 2,300. These families receive food, clothing and Christmas gifts. Last year, at an estimated value of about $1.5 million.

Through this program, community members sign up to adopt a family. Families Helping Families partners with several social service agencies, which refer families that would most benefit from the program. This list of participating families is selected well in advance.

Sponsors who adopt families are then encouraged to purchase one toy, an article of clothing and a book for each child. Plus, a gift certificate to a grocery store for the entire family.

Sponsors should expect to spend about $75 per person when adopting a family. Some people like to go in with co-workers, church members, family members of friends to split the costs.

Nell Killoy is the Families Helping Families program director.

She said the reason for the smaller amount of families being adopted this year is, “We didn’t want to be in a position where we promised Christmas to families and then we were unable to come through with that. So, we felt like with the pandemic and how it’s affecting all families in the Midlands, we would attempt to do half of what we did last year.”

She also said, “Next year, we’ll go back to going full bore.”

There will also be some changes in the process, this year. As always, sponsors will drop off the gifts they’ve purchased for their adopted families to the warehouse, located in West Columbia this time. The recipient families will then go and pick up those gifts from the warehouse, but unlike in years past, this time everyone will stay inside their cars to limit exposure.

It’s a part of the process Killoy says she’ll certainly miss.

“There’s nothing, nothing like seeing the joy on a mom’s face when she’s picking up bikes for her kids. It’s just – you can’t. So, we won’t be able to see all of that. Some of the volunteers will. The ones who are helping them at their car, but we all won’t see it in the warehouse and we’ve suffered some big losses this year,” said Killoy who was visibly upset adding that, “Our main, main volunteer, Stuart Stout, died and it’s just not going to be the same.”

Killoy said Stout had been volunteering with Families Helping Families for 15 years, that everyone knew him and many would often request to work with him. Killoy said that Stuart’s death was not COVID-19-related, but did not provide any other details.

Another big change this year, is there will be no Families Helping Families phone bank. Last year, of the more than 3,600 families adopted about 1,900 were adopted during the phone bank. This two-week long event also typically brings in thousands of monetary donations.

Of the 2,300 families, seniors and adults with specials needs on the list to be adopted this year, there are about 950 families and adults with special needs left. All the seniors have already been adopted. If you’re interested in adopting, click here.

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