Students share holiday spirit
Photo by Dan Addison
|Ashlyn Scott holds toys donated for the Holiday Sharing program.
By Charlotte Crystal
“Let’s party” means something special to U.Va. students who volunteer for Madison House’s Holiday Sharing Program. It means celebrating with area families on Distribution Day — the culmination of months of planning, phone calling, shopping and sorting — when boxes of food and gifts are shared with people who need a hand in providing their families with a merry Christmas.
On Dec. 2, more than 50 Charlottesville families attended Distribution Day festivities at Madison House, where they received food and gifts donated by area businesses and members of the University community.
The party included coffee and pastries for the parents and a visit from Santa for the kids.
“Santa was wonderful,” said Ashlyn Scott, a fourth-year student from Ivor, Va., and head program director for the Holiday Sharing Program. “Distribution Day is one of the biggest days of this year for me.
Christmas is important to my family and I want to be able to share it. What better way to get into the Christmas spirit — it adds a special feeling to this time of year that I know I won’t ever lose.”
A sociology major and psychology minor, Scott has been involved with the annual Holiday Sharing program — a demanding project that involves six program directors and about 75 volunteers — for three years: the first year as a volunteer, the second as a program director and this year as the head program director.
The program works in collaboration with the Salvation Army, which sends a list of 80 eligible families in October. The Madison House volunteers then move into action, spreading the word about the program and signing up sponsors, which include area businesses, individual students and faculty members, University departments and student organizations.
The volunteers match the sponsors with families, keeping an eye on the families’ needs and the sponsors’ capabilities. Families for whom no matches are found are returned to the Salvation Army, which passes them on to other organizations for similar assistance.
The Holiday Sharing Program kicks up a notch in November, with boxes of food and gifts arriving at Madison House. Volunteers make sure that each box has a minimum amount of food — a shopping trip with donated money fills in the gaps — and that the gifts are gender and age appropriate.
“We make sure the kids all get toys as well as clothes,” Scott said.
Scott, who usually spends 10 hours a week on her volunteer job, came into Madison House every day in November to check on things. By the last week of the month, she was logging 12-hour days — from 9 or 10 in the morning until 10 at night — helping the other dedicated volunteers ensure that everything would be ready on time.
“It’s not work when I’m here,” Scott said. “It’s what I love. Even after leaving U.Va., volunteering will continue to be a big part of my life. I think everyone should do it.”
Many other University students agree, as about 3,000 students a year participate in more than a dozen Madison House programs.
“You learn a lot in the classroom, but you learn more about who you are by volunteering,” Scott said. “I’ve learned who I am, what I like, what I don’t like, what I’m able to do. At U.Va., there’s a spot for everyone and I found mine here at Madison House.”