“It’s all about the kids,” fourth-year University of Virginia student Morgan Gronbeck said Friday morning, as she surveyed a room full of boxes packed with all kinds of gifts and household items, from stuffed animals and soccer balls to cereal and canned vegetables.
A Madison House program director, she and other student volunteers work for the Holiday Sharing program year after year, she said, because of seeing those children’s faces light up as they see their gifts of bicycles, toys and more.
Coordinated by Madison House, UVA’s student volunteer center, and in partnership with the Salvation Army of Charlottesville, the Holiday Sharing program invites the UVA and Charlottesville communities to collect food and gifts for local families in need. The program has been an annual tradition for almost 30 years.
This year, with the support of donors from UVA offices and departments, Greek organizations and alumni from across the country, as well as area nonprofit groups, the program collected more than $40,000 in donations of food, gifts and money that will be distributed Saturday to 150 local families referred by the Salvation Army.
The families are invited to pick up their packages during a festive party at Madison House, where they can decorate cookies and enjoy snacks while holiday music plays.
As busy as Santa’s elves, UVA students gathered at the center this week to pack food and gifts for local families to help them enjoy the holiday season.
“Seeing the reactions of the families, how grateful they are, makes it all worthwhile,” said fourth-year student Emily Brown, the Holiday Sharing head program director who oversees about 50 Madison House volunteers. “Many recipients have expressed that without Holiday Sharing, celebrating the holidays in their household just wouldn’t be possible.”
Aidan Kilrain, a third-year biology major, leads one of five teams who work all semester on soliciting donations, running a food drive at local grocery stores, keeping an inventory of all the packages and planning the celebration for the families. It’s a great experience to help people in Charlottesville, he said, and offers students a chance to meet others beyond the on-Grounds bubble.
“Our 3,000 student volunteers are out in the community doing great work and having incredible learning experiences year-round,” Tim Freilich, Madison House executive director, said. “Madison House’s Holiday Sharing program gives us a chance to show our appreciation to the community while supporting our neighbors in need. In the process, our Madison House Holiday Sharing leaders gain important skills, such as how to budget, manage volunteers, communicate effectively with stakeholders and track donations, all while helping share the love for the holidays.”