“When I was growing up, Christmas was a magical time I looked forward to,” Karin Brett said. Now a third-year student at the University of Virginia, “I wanted to be a part of bringing that magic to others,” she said.
The civil engineering major found an opportunity to do that by volunteering in the Madison House Holiday Sharing program.
“I’m glad it’s called ‘holiday’ though, to make it inclusive,” she said, noting that people celebrate a range of holidays at this time of year.
Brett serves as one of four program directors who, along with head program directors Alexandria Gibson and Carol Cho, lead 20 student volunteers working in the Holiday Sharing program that provides gifts and food for local families in need.
A small group of Holiday Sharing volunteers gathered recently at Madison House, the University’s student volunteer clearinghouse, to check the donations a few days ahead of Saturday’s “distribution day.” That’s when parents pick up their gift boxes while UVA students play games with the children who might be in tow. Bodo’s Bagels and Crozet Pizza provided some tasty food. Santa Claus always makes a visit, adding to the festive atmosphere.
As the end of the semester drew closer, the volunteers agreed they were happy to share the holiday spirit with each other and with the local community.
The program worked with the Salvation Army and another Madison House program, Latinx and Migrant Aid, to identify families who could use the boost to make the holidays merry, especially for children. In the past, the program has called on student groups, UVA offices and local businesses to sponsor specific families, providing food and presents for each family member.
They might resume that in the future, Cho said. Since the 2020 pandemic, however, the program shifted to soliciting monetary donations, which the volunteers then use to buy the gifts. UVA’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy has again donated the ingredients for holiday meals.
This season, the program will reach 55 families – and more, as part of a new effort.
The program will also “give the gift of giving” in partnership with City of Promise, Cho said. A Charlottesville nonprofit organization, City of Promise provides educational services and other resources to parents and children in need, from the cradle to careers. It opens a Christmas shop with donated items, and this year, the Holiday Sharing volunteers bought gifts for adults that 50 children will be able to choose from to give to their parents or other caregivers. The children will have their “shopping day” after the UVA semester and exams have ended, so the UVA students won’t be able to assist with that part.
The student volunteers agreed they like working on the Holiday Sharing program as a good way to give back to the community, as well as have a good time working with their peers across Grounds.
The group is varied, coming from all parts of the University.
“It’s a neat way to interact with UVA and the broader community,” said Cho, a neuroscience major.
Participating in a program like this makes UVA feel smaller, Sophie Reale, a third-year statistics major, said. She also appreciates learning how a charity organization works behind the scenes.
Gibson, who volunteered for the Salvation Army with her family when she was younger, said she wanted to continue making an impact in the community. In addition, as a School of Architecture student, the program has enabled her to connect more easily with students outside her discipline.
Added Emma Singer, another third-year student, who’s majoring in global health: “And the shopping is fun!”