The holidays are about Christmas music, lights and decorations, treats, and presents – but it’s also about showing holiday spirit and generosity to help others have a great Christmas, too.
Some people may choose to do this by volunteering at organizations to help the less fortunate, others may give spare change at the red Salvation Army buckets stationed outside public spaces, and others may purchase or donate items to an organization, who then provides the items to foster and kinship children.
One such organization is Helen’s Hope Chest, part of Mesa United Way, who this time of year, helps foster and kinship children have a great Christmas by giving them gifts, part of a program called JaKelle’s Christmas Box.
This year, it will be held Dec. 11-15, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Dec. 16, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. at Mesa First Church of The Nazarene, 955 E. University Drive.
Helen’s Hope Chest has been giving out presents at Christmas since 2009, and their gift-giving event grew more in 2012, when a young woman named JaKelle Westergard passed away – since her family was already very supportive of Helen’s Hope Chest, they decided to donate gifts in JaKelle’s honor, said Katie Pompay, executive director of Helen’s Hope Chest.
“And she loved Christmas so much that they couldn’t stop buying her gifts, so they were collecting them in what they called JaKelle’s Christmas Box, and as the holidays approached, they decided to donate all of that to Helen’s in her honor,” Pompay said. As well “as a reminder to the kids that come to JaKelle’s, that no matter how difficult life gets, there’s always hope and happiness and love around them, so we renamed it JaKelle’s Christmas Box in her honor,” Pompay said.
Donations help Helen’s Hope Chest serve children in foster and kinship care in the state of Arizona. Pompay said in December 2015, they served about 2,700 kids through JaKelle’s Christmas Box, in 2016 over 3,000, and this year, Pompay said they are anticipating around 3,000 kids.
Helen’s Hope Chest volunteers Marilyn Balph and Virginia Hielen help sort donations for children that include toys, stuffed animals, books and clothing. Pompay said for donations they ask for new, unwrapped gifts for kids 0 to 18 years old.
“At Christmastime, we sort the toys as they come in, we label the boxes whether it’s a gift or stocking stuffer, boy or girl, and the age,” Balph said.
Hielen said they also sort through everything to ensure it’s in good condition, and they aren’t damaged, such as stains or missing buttons.
In addition, Balph said, “another thing I like about Helen’s Hope Chest in particular is nothing goes to waste, if we can’t use it, it goes either to Salvation Army or Sunshine Acres.”
For families that want to participate in JaKelle’s Christmas Box, they can call Helen’s Hope Chest and make an appointment beforehand, which Pompay said helps them spread out families throughout the week and gives them a chance to look around.
“For Christmas, we give a gift, stocking stuffers, stuffed animals and books, this year, we were able to collect enough books that we’re able to give out two books per child, and we are really good on stocking stuffers. Right now, we definitely need some stuff for infants, elementary age, teen girls and boys,” Pompay said.
One year for JaKelle’s, Pompay said a teenager came in with her grandmother who was having trouble sleeping at night and was looking for a stuffed animal that would be really special.
Pompay said a volunteer knew Helen’s had a light-up Pillow Pet in the back, and when the volunteer brought it out and the girl saw it, she burst into tears. She knew it was what the girl was hoping for.
“So, there’s that kind of thing that happens and one of the reasons we like the families to be able to look around and see what might be best for the kids, because they know them better than we do,” Pompay said. “We have such great volunteers and such great families that come through…I’m looking forward to the event itself this year.”
Donations can be dropped off at Helen’s Hope Chest, 126 E. University Drive in Mesa, Monday through Thursday and Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
JaKelle’s Christmas Box, Dec. 11-15, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Dec. 16, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Mesa First Church of The Nazarene, 955 E. University Drive.
To learn more about JaKelle’s Christmas Box or to donate, visit: mesaunitedway.org.
– Mesa resident Alyssa Tufts is a freelance writer for MyNewsMesa.com.