The holiday season is a time for family and friends to enjoy traditions, laughs and memories together. It is also a time to enjoy giving to those you care about. For many people, gifts are undoubtedly one of the most fun and exciting parts of the holiday. But what about those that may not be able to afford to give gifts? The Holiday Gift Program at MSU works to remedy this situation by giving back to MSU families.
Headed by Administrative Assistant Laraine Walton, the Holiday Gift Program is run through the Student Parent Resource Center. The center was founded to provide support, resources and connections for student-parents during and after their time at MSU. One of these resources is the Holiday Gift Program, which was started to help families in need at MSU during the holiday season.
“Families chosen must be currently enrolled students with children at MSU and members of the Registered Student Organization — Student Parents on a Mission (SPOM),” said Walton. “However, if a student with children comes to us with a need, we will try our best to accommodate them.”
Being a student is hard in general, but having a family to support is tougher. Going to school or back to school is a big decision that can leave a big dent in the budget. Programs like the Holiday Gift Program alleviate stress and give hope to families that need it. The program also makes it easy for MSU departments and community organizations to be involved.
“Toward the end of October each year, I send out a request to the MSU community and those who have previously participated in the Holiday Gift Program, asking if they’d like to participate for the current year. Sponsors will then email me with the name of a department contact and the size family or families they believe they can support,” said Walton. “I then send the wish list out to our student parent listserv, and once I begin receiving wish lists, I start the process of matching departments with families. Individuals within the sponsoring departments then contribute financially — their own personal money — and purchase what they can from the student’s wish list. During the first week of December, sponsors begin contacting student-families to then meet, greet and deliver or pick up their gifts.”
Walton receives the wish lists from the families and reviews them before giving them to sponsors. From there, the sponsors get to buy gifts for their assigned family. “Families request what they need, such as clothing, gift cards — gas, Walmart, Meijer — school supplies and toys for children,” said Walton.
Different departments around campus take part in the program each year. MSU’s Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities (RCPD) is one of the main contributors to the Holiday Gift Program. Denise Hartman from the RCPD says that each year they participate they are “filled with joy and gratification.”
The holidays are about more than just giving gifts and love to close friends and family; they are about opening up to people and reflecting on everything we are grateful for. Giving to others, especially those in need, brings the true spirit of the holidays into the lives of those in the MSU community. Additionally, being a part of an organization that gives back to community members in need is a way to get connected with other people.
In a school with over 50,000 people, it can be easy to feel alone, especially during the holidays. Programs that engage and help those that may feel isolated are key in making sure everyone in the MSU community feels welcome. The program allows MSU to come together and help their own during a time when help, care and love is needed most.
“I can truly say coordinating this program is one of the highlights of my job. I look forward to this time of year, every year. The MSU departments and community sponsors who adopt these families for the holidays are very generous in their giving,” said Walton. “Every year, this program never fails to bring me to tears with how caring and willing the MSU community is to help our student families.”
Not only does the Holiday Gift Program allow strangers to connect, but it allows friends and co-workers to grow closer as well. Participants from departments and organizations work together to buy and prepare gifts, and the program allows people that converse and interact every day to connect with each other on a more personal level. This is more than just a professional task; this is a personal one that enriches the lives of everyone involved.
The holidays are about reflection, tradition and love. The Holiday Gift Program embodies all those qualities. Buying gifts and caring for others through this program allows individuals in departments and organizations to reflect on the things that may be taken for granted and start a new tradition for years to come. Helping others is an act of love that will undoubtedly brighten someone’s holiday, and perhaps their entire year.
If you would like to join an MSU department or community organization in taking part of the Holiday Gift Program and sponsoring a family, you can contact Laraine D. Walton by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (517) 884-0146.