December 5, 2018

A new holiday volunteer tradition: Adopt a family this season

volunteer with holiday gifts

For more than 20 years, Shelly Rubenfire has made “adopting” a family through Jewish Family Service of Metro Detroit part of her holiday traditions.

Baking cookies. Decorating the house. Singing songs. Everyone has their favorite holiday traditions. For Shelly Rubenfire, it’s giving back to families in need. 

Every year, Shelly adopts a family for Christmas and Hanukkah through Jewish Family Service of Metro Detroit (JFS). She adopted her first family more than 20 years ago to teach her children the importance of giving back. Now a JFS board member, she continues to find joy in helping others. 

“Everyone should have a chance to have something special during the holidays,” Shelly said. “This is a tangible way to give back.”  

For many families, the greatest gifts could be to have their basic needs met, like receiving warm winter coats or waterproof boots. Similarly, for others it’s something as simple as toiletries or cooking utensils. On occasion there are children who want something special for themselves – a building set or a doll.

No matter the need, it’s the volunteers and donors who make the difference for organizations that fulfill families’ wish lists every holiday season.

volunteers wrap holiday gifts

Volunteers and staff prepare Hanukkah and Christmas gifts for families in need at Jewish Family Service of Metro Detroit.

Making the holiday brighter for hundreds

Jewish Family Service of Metro Detroit is one of many United Way for Southeastern Michigan partners that offers an Adopt a Family program.  

Participating is simple: Volunteers can choose to shop for an individual or family from their wish list, purchase gift cards or make a financial donation to the program. Last year, 400 donors provided gifts for 820 clients.  

This year, there are 850 families that need support around the holidays.  

Emily Croitori, volunteer services supervisor at JFS, says the Adopt a Family program is critical even when basic needs are met.  

“We have a lot of older adults and families who come to us,” she said. “Once the bills are taken care of, there’s often not much left. It’s nice to be able to provide the extras they couldn’t otherwise afford.” 

The program is completely anonymous. Donors deliver gifts to JFS, while volunteers pitch in to wrap or purchase additional items.  

Although the donors don’t interact directly with recipients, their effort makes an important impact. Last year, a recently divorced mother of three was faced with being unable to provide her children with presents. She participated in the Adopt a Family program and wrote a note to share her gratitude.  

“I am beyond overwhelmed with gratefulness at the gifts my children got from JFS,” it read. “The anonymous people who bought the gifts were so thoughtful and generous.” 

holiday gifts for families

Emily Croitori, volunteer services supervisor at Jewish Family Service of Metro Detroit, with gifts from volunteers for the organization’s holiday gift program.

Ongoing efforts

People often view the holidays as the season of giving, but the need remains year-round. Recognizing this, United Way has launched Seasons of Caring, which connects individuals, professional teams, school and church groups, and entire organizations to meaningful volunteer work throughout the year. Each season, we focus on one area where volunteers can make a difference.

Winter is a critical time to get involved, as the temperatures begin to drop and new needs arise. To learn about United Way volunteer opportunities this holiday season and winter, visit our volunteer opportunities page.

For those interested in volunteering with JFS, the organization is launching a program to teach seniors basic iPad skills during weekly visits. Those who aren’t tech savvy, can consider becoming a Friendly Visitor to provide companionship to homebound older adults. 

“Everyone can do something – whether it’s money or time or both,” Shelly said. “Both are valuable gifts to give.”