December 5, 2011 — Madison House, the University of Virginia's student volunteer center, wrapped up its Holiday Sharing Program on Saturday by distributing gifts and food to 107 families. More than 400 people in those families dropped by the house to pick up packages amid a festive atmosphere with holiday treats, bedecked walls and seasonal music.
Molly Tyeryar, a fourth-year economics major in the College of Arts & Sciences and head program director for Holiday Sharing, led about 50 student volunteers who carried out the preparations and played "elves" on distribution day.
"Holiday Sharing has been a huge part of my four years at U.Va.," Tyeryar said. "The program has shown me the generosity of the University and Charlottesville community. It is great to see the looks on the families' faces when boxes of food and gifts keep coming out of one of the rooms in Madison House.
"This year we not only had sponsors who took on eight-person families; we also had sponsors of smaller families who went above and beyond what is listed for food and gifts," she said.
When the program begins in October, student volunteers focus on generating publicity and recruiting family sponsors, both returning and new ones. U.Va. organizations and offices – 75 this year – sign up to sponsor a family consisting of between three and eight people. Madison House provides information on family members' ages, sizes and "wish lists." The group also sends each sponsor a list of suggested nonperishable foods to donate, and requests a grocery-store gift card for buying fresh food.
The student volunteers also post displays around Grounds, so that individuals can also make donations that will be matched with families.
The week before end-of-semester exams, volunteers inventory gift packages as they are dropped off at the house. On distribution day, the sponsored families come to Madison House to pick up their gift boxes.
"It's a great way to see the fruits of your labor for the previous two months, and anybody who has been to a distribution day will agree it's one of the best days of your life," Tyeryar said.
Volunteers and guests decorated 100 cookies on Saturday. Bodos, Corner Cup, U.Va. Catering and Aramark donated food for the daylong celebration.
Several of the families who received gifts were identified through Madison House's Migrant and Latino Aid Program, while other families in need came from Madison House's longtime partnership with the Salvation Army.
"The program also lets me know that I can continue to give after graduation by participating on the sponsoring side of Holiday Sharing or other programs like it," Tyeryar said.