Madison House Student Volunteers Make the Holidays Special

December 15, 2009

December 15, 2009 — Snowfall made for a festive atmosphere Dec. 5 as Madison House student volunteers from the University of Virginia gave packages of gifts and food to low-income families through the annual Holiday Sharing program.

"This year was absolutely picturesque," said Chelsey Iaquinto, head program director. "With the snow all day on Saturday when the families were picking up their packages, it seemed like the very essence of the holidays."

About 110 families stopped at the brick house on Rugby Road. Children could talk to Santa, drink hot chocolate and decorate holiday cookies. They thanked the volunteers; one family with five siblings serenaded the staff with a Miley Cyrus song.

Meanwhile, parents threw blankets over unwrapped presents-to-be, and the volunteers were as busy as elves taking food and gifts out to cars. About 65 students and six program directors spent more than 1,500 hours in planning and holding the final event, Iaquinto said.

"The parents and children are so great, with parents who didn't bring their children taking out pictures so that the volunteers could see who they are helping," she said.

The Holiday Sharing program at Madison House, the student volunteer center at U.Va., works with the Salvation Army and the Albemarle Regional Migrant Education program to prepare a list of needy families.

Volunteers begin in early October and work until the first week of December. They recruit sponsor groups to gather gift and food donations -- enough food for three full meals for the family, and gifts of approximately $30 or more for each family member. Office groups often participate as sponsors, giving gifts, nonperishable foods and grocery-store gift cards to an "adopted" family.

"It is seeing the generosity of the sponsors, as well of the happiness of the families when they come to pick up their gifts, that really makes this program so worthwhile," Iaquinto said.

— By Anne Bromley