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Brighter holiday: Adopt-a-Family

Dennis and Kristine Anderson package food at St. Anne for OCEF. (click for larger version)
November 23, 2011 - Kathleen Russell's philosophy on holiday charity is disarmingly simple.

"If we can do Christmas for our family, we can do Christmas for someone else's family," says the Groveland Township resident, who is married to Jim and has three children, Shana DeVoe, 20, Noah DeVoe, 19, and Reeves DeVoe, 15.

"We're in a fortunate situation. Christmas has always been OK for us, and we thought it was about time we made sure Christmas was OK for someone else."

With that in mind, about four years ago, they began participating in the "Adopt-a-Family" program through the Ortonville Community Emergency Fund (OCEF). Instead of picking tags from a giving tree at St. Anne Church, the family began adopting whole families that were similar in size to theirs.

Russell said they have always purchased food to donate to the pantry and years ago, bought gifts. Through the years, the number of families in need increased and OCEF, lacking storage space at St. Anne Church, began requesting gift cards to give to needy families instead of actual gifts.

"Many years ago, you could buy a gift so it seemed more real," said Russell. "What made it real again was to adopt a family. We connect the gift cards to this mom, this dad and their kids, or this mom, this grandma, and grandchildren."

OCEF requests donations of $20-$25 gift cards from various stores, and adopters can often personalize the gift a little more by buying small items like hats, mittens, socks, coloring books, crayons, stocking stuffers or something special for a mom or dad that they can't buy for themselves, Russell said.

"The gift cards lend dignity to a family so they don't get a sweater they don't like," said Russell. "Now they can buy something they want, what a wonderful thing. How disappointing it would be if that sweater was your only gift and not your size or style. The gift cards help you know that person will get something they want or need, or that will fit."

Russell recalls the Christmas, too, in which her children's grandparents gave the kids money for the holiday, and they in turn used that to adopt another OCEF family instead of Russell's kids "getting more they didn't need." The grandparents loved the gesture.

"Because we are in a position that we can help, there is no doubt in my mind we should," said Russell. "We should count our blessings every day that we are in a position to give. I would hope someone would give us the same consideration if something bad happened to us."

Gwen Koss, OCEF food pantry director, hopes others have that same spirit this season as they have lots of families that have signed up for holiday assistance.

"Please consider participating in the Adopt-a-Family program this year," she said. "It is through your generosity that we are able to share the light of Christ with many struggling families in our community."

For more information about the Adopt-a-Family program please call St. Anne Christian Service Office at 248-627-3965, ext.103.

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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