A new holiday volunteer tradition: Adopt a family this season

Published on November 10, 2021 in

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

For more than 20 years, Shelly Rubenfire has made “adopting” a family through Jewish Family Service of Metro Detroit (JFS) 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 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 and staff prepare Hanukkah and Christmas gifts for families in need at Jewish Family Service of Metro Detroit.

Making the holiday brighter for hundreds

JFS is one of many United Way for Southeastern Michigan partner organizations that offer an Adopt a Family program.   

This year, the program will look a bit different due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Still, the need is as great as ever. 

Instead of purchasing physical gifts, JFS is asking individual and corporate donors to make donations that will be used toward the purchase of gift cards, which can then be safely distributed to families. 

Each year, around 800 individuals receive gifts through the program, which is completely anonymous. JFS serves both Jewish and non-Jewish families and accepts donations throughout December. 

“Our hope is to get back to the traditional gift donation model next year,” said Lindsay Leder, senior director of marketing and communications at Jewish Family Services. “Whether its actual gifts, gift cards, or monetary donations, the effort makes the holidays brighter for our families.” 

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


Emily Croitori, volunteer services supervisor at JFS, says the Adopt a Family program remains 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.”  

Although the donors don’t interact directly with recipients, their effort makes an important impact. Recently, a 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.” 


Winter is a critical time to get involved, as the temperatures begin to drop, and new needs arise. Many people also make a commitment to give back during the holiday season. To find volunteer opportunities in your community through December, visit our Volunteer Portal. 

People often view the holidays as the season of giving, but the need remains year-round. Recognizing this, United Way 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. 

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