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Holiday Helper program launches Oct. 23

Illustrated image of a reindeer and gifts

For decades, Illinois State University students, faculty, and staff have provided holiday gifts for local children through the University’s Holiday Helper program. In the midst of the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and struggling economy, the program has become more important than ever for families in Bloomington-Normal.

“So many individuals in the community have been impacted financially because of the pandemic,” said Blair Canedy, graduate assistant for community service projects at the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning (CESL). Canedy is coordinating this year’s Holiday Helper program. “For many children in the community, the only gifts they receive this holiday season will be the ones through our program.”

Each year, CESL partners with local organizations to identify children in need. In conjunction with each partnering agency, the children and their families identify personal wants and needs. CESL then asks Illinois State students, faculty, and staff to help sponsor each child by purchasing gifts for them valuing approximately $50.

Partner agencies this year include Unity Community Center, Boys and Girls Club, the Center for Youth and Family Solutions, Marcfirst, and the Western Avenue Community Center After School Program at Eastview Christian Church. “We’re thrilled to be able to work with a new agency this year, too” said Canedy. “We’ll be adding some virtual gift options in partnership with The Baby Fold.”

Online sponsorship for this year’s program launches on Friday, Oct. 23. To sponsor a child, University students, faculty, and staff can simply use the program’s online portal to select a child, and then purchase approximately $50 in gifts for them (keeping the value of the gifts as close to $50 as possible ensures that children in the same household receive equitable gifts). Sponsors then return the gifts, unwrapped, to CESL during gift drop-off week, Nov. 16-20.

Curbside gift drop-off

To make drop-off easier on sponsors and to increase safety measures, this year CESL is offering curbside service during gift drop-off week, November 16-20.

“Sponsors can simply park in the designated spot in the parking lot behind our building and then text us that they’ve arrived,” said Canedy. “We’ll send an ‘elf’ out to retrieve the gifts. Not only will this make drop-off more convenient for sponsors, but it also decreases the amount of traffic in CESL’s small office spaces.”

Online wish list option

This year CESL is also offering a new, virtual donation option for Redbirds wishing to be involved who are not near Bloomington-Normal.

“In partnership with The Baby Fold, we will be offering an Amazon wish list of items that people can purchase and ship to us at CESL,” said Canedy. “This is a great way to be involved if you cannot commit to the full $50 of sponsoring a child or if you are not located near campus this fall!”

All donations received from The Baby Fold Amazon wish list will be collected at CESL and taken to The Baby Fold at the close of the Holiday Helper program.

Wrap and Pack party

Traditionally, CESL has organized several Wrap and Pack parties each year to organize and wrap the donated gifts for each child. With fewer organizations requesting that the gifts be wrapped this year, however, and with the need for safety measures and social distancing, CESL will instead host one Wrap and Pack Party. The event will take place on November 23 at the Bone Student Center’s Brown Ballroom.

Volunteers can sign up to wrap and organize gifts within a variety of two-hour time slots. Wrapping stations will be socially distanced, and each space will be sanitized at the end of each time slot.

“Given the earlier timeline for this year’s program, our Wrap and Pack event actually falls during the week of fall break,” said Canedy. “We know that most students will be gone that week, so we’re hoping that faculty and staff members will be able to volunteer at the event.”

To volunteer, visit this SignUp Genius form. Please only volunteer if you are feeling well. Volunteers will be asked to remain socially distant and to follow CDC guidelines.