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Madison House broadens scope of sharing program

Madison House sharing program
Photo by Jenny Gerow
Students stuff boxes with toys, food and other gifts for area families being sponsored through the Madison House Holiday Sharing Program.

By Matt Kelly

Hearts remain generous this holiday season, judging by donations to Madison House’s Holiday Sharing Program.

The campaign, which for more than 20 years has been matching underprivileged local families with donors of food and gifts, will help 95 families this year. Ten of those are migrant farm workers, and Madison House executive director Cindy Fredrick said providing aid to migrant workers was a chance to broaden the scope of the center’s mission.

“Even the legal migrants don’t come into town seeking help that much,” she said.

In the Holiday Sharing Campaign, donors put together food baskets — enough food for four people for three days — and gifts for Christmas. Fredrick said the gift packages are balanced so everyone in the family gets something, and the children receive approximately the same number of items. Suggested gifts for adults include many practical items such as gloves, hats, cooking utensils and clothing.
“The students noted how many families were requesting bicycles,” she said. “So they got people to donate about 25 bicycles.”

Fredrick said 75 of the donors are affiliated with the University this year. This includes departments, individuals, student organizations and families of students.

There are more families in need this year, Fredrick said, and more will call as the holidays get nearer. Madison House, which is a volunteer organization, works through social service agencies, such as the Salvation Army, that supply the names of the needy families. To qualify for assistance, the families must live below the poverty line and meet other criteria.

“We’re not a social service agency, so we can’t verify incomes and determine eligibility,” Fredrick said. “And for the migrants, filling out social services applications can be a daunting task.”

The Salvation Army supplied the names of most of the families this year, but the Albemarle County Migrant Education Program also suggested 10 migrant families that needed help.

There were 46 student volunteers this year working on the project, out of Madison House’s 3,000 volunteers. Among the volunteers’ jobs is determining that each package is adequate to meet a family’s needs; if more is needed, some supplemental shopping may be required.

One student, Karen Eckmann of Ohio, stayed in Charlottesville over the Thanksgiving break to inventory donation boxes with her family, who drove in from the Midwest to help her.

“The student volunteers get a feeling of giving back to the community and making someone’s holiday better,” Fredrick said.


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