Baskets of food and childrens’ toys will soon fill the Office of Volunteer Programs, located on the second floor of the Illini Union, 1401 W. Green St., Urbana.
The Office of Volunteer Programs will host its annual Thanksgiving Basket Drive, which began on Oct. 26, as well as its annual Holiday Toy Drive, beginning on Nov. 14.
The Thanksgiving Basket Drive offers students and community members the opportunity to put together baskets consisting of traditional items needed to prepare a Thanksgiving meal, which are then given to families in need around the Champaign-Urbana area.
The Office of Volunteer Programs asks for about 20 items, including green beans, sweet potatoes, brown sugar, yams, cranberries and boxes of mashed potatoes and stuffing. Most of these items are smaller items, making it easier for a group of students or student organizations to divide up items among students and then put together a basket. The office also asks for $25 gift cards that families can use to purchase turkeys and other perishable items needed for their meals.
In past years, the office did not accept individual items because it encouraged students to put together baskets. This year, the office will host a singles event, where students and community members can bring multiple numbers of one item. In addition to giving students who can’t afford to donate a full basket a way they can still help, having individual items allows the office to have fill-in items in case people bring in baskets that are missing certain things.
Last year, the office collected 112 baskets. This year, the office has already received requests for over 200 baskets. Donations are accepted until Nov. 16.
“One of the things a lot of people don’t realize is that these are often working families, so we’re not talking about people that may fit a stereotype that someone would have of being lazy or not willing to work,” said Vaneitta Goines, director of the Office of Volunteer Programs. “We’re talking about people who are working as hard as they can to take care of themselves and their children, and that’s still just not enough to make ends meet.”
The Holiday Toy Drive allows students to “adopt” a child and donate gifts that a child specifically asked for. Students pick out a snowflake that represents a child of a certain age and gender, and if that child asked for a particular wish list item, it will be listed on the back of the snowflake.
Those receiving gifts range from infants to teenagers, with no specific ages listed. Goines said the oldest gift recipients are between 15 and 17 years old. The office keeps the price of gifts under $15 so they are affordable for students.
Students can pick up a snowflake at the office inside the Illini Union and various locations around campus, including the Student Dining and Residential Programs building, or SDRP, 301 E. Gregory Drive, Champaign.
Last year the office collected nearly 400 gifts, and this year it is hoping to collect up to 1,000. The office accepts gifts until Dec. 15.
“For us, the benefit that it fills for the community is that a lot of students take care because they remember their Christmas gifts, or whatever holiday it is, and they take care in finding something that was really meaningful to them and they think will be really meaningful to another child, as opposed to just going out and buying whatever 99 cent gift there is available,” Goines said.
Students are required to give the gifts to the office unwrapped to ensure that the gifts are new and age appropriate. For both the Thanksgiving Basket Drive and the Holiday Toy Drive, students are not directly involved with handing out baskets and gifts to families and children. Agencies collect donations and determine the families that are most in need of help. They then hand out baskets to families and give the gifts to children, which some agencies do at their holiday parties.
Agencies include faith-based organizations such as Salt & Light in Champaign, transition centers such as the Center for Women in Transition in Champaign, the Family Resource Center in Champaign and schools and community centers in Champaign-Urbana where children attend after-school programs.
Even though students are not directly involved in giving baskets and toys to families and children, they are still making a difference.
“It’s not the same thing that (students) were hoping for … but it’s really important to reassure them that they definitely do have the impact that they’re hoping to have, even if they don’t get to see it,” Goines said.
Alicia Freter, a staff member for the office who is a project leader this year for the Holiday Toy Drive, hopes that those who are in need gain a sense of having community support.
“It would just be wonderful for them to not have to worry about being able to provide Christmas presents for their family and sacrifice other necessities just to give them a great Christmas and just to know that they have the community behind them and rooting for them and there to help them,” she said. “I think that, above anything else, would be a wonderful thing for the families to get out of it.”
Diwante Shuford, the project leader for the Thanksgiving Basket Drive, stresses the importance of helping others.
“There’s always somebody that’s less fortunate than you, so come to that realization,” he said. “We as students are blessed with the opportunity to have an education and to receive education, and we also have extra resources. So with these extra resources and with this extra time that we have, we should use it to give back and help other people out who are in need of it.”