Donors and volunteers hit the pause button Wednesday on their own holiday preparations to provide gifts for people less fortunate and reflect on 50 years of Share Our Selves’ Adopt A Family program.
The program aims to help struggling Orange County families by providing donated food and other items on their holiday wish lists. To celebrate the 50th anniversary, SOS set up a thank-you station at the OC Fair & Event Center in Costa Mesa with treats and an interactive display featuring the program’s history. Donor families dropped off gifts while volunteers wrapped and organized the items in two buildings.
“It is truly amazing to see the empty rooms fill up with mountains of gifts by the end of the day,” said Katie Santore, a communications associate for Costa Mesa-based SOS.
As of Wednesday, the organization was expecting to serve 1,490 families with 4,537 children. On Thursday, the gifts are to be loaded on trucks and delivered to schools and organizations that helped Costa Mesa and Santa Ana families benefit from the program.
Donors fill out forms describing what kind of family they would like to “adopt,” particularly the family’s size and ages of its members. When there’s a match, SOS sends the family’s story and a gift wish list from each member. Donors also can choose a family from a list.
SOS asks that donors agree to provide each child in the family with at least two new gifts and provide the family with grocery store gift cards for a complete holiday meal. Some donors also include gifts for adults, Santore said.
Every year, the program ends up with some families that go unadopted, but SOS still provides them with gifts and food through money contributions and organizations that hold food, toy and gift card drives, Santore said.
SOS centers throughout Orange County provide services that address medical, dental and behavioral health issues. But Adopt A Family was the organization’s first project. In 1969, Jean Forbath, who helped found the nonprofit Save Our Youth, and a group of parishioners at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church met in her living room to organize the project until it became a bigger program.
During its first year, the program helped 51 families and distributed 2,000 wrapped presents to 272 children along with a Christmas tree, food and clothing.
More than 50,000 families have been “adopted” since the program began, according to SOS.