Every year St. Vincent de Paul's Adopt-A-Family program connects families unable to afford holiday cheer with families, businesses and community groups willing to sponsor a holiday meal and presents. Last year, we followed one sponsor family on the day they delivered Christmas to a family in need. This is their story.
When Dunsan Radojicic and his family pulled up in front of Melissa Hansen’s house in Tolleson, out came Santa and a few reindeer from the car. Dunsan and his sons had dressed up for the special day in December, when they would deliver Christmas to Melissa and her seven children.
The two families had never before met. It was St. Vincent de Paul’s annual Adopt-A-Family holiday program that brought them together when Melissa realized she wouldn’t be able to afford Christmas for her children. Adopt-A-Family paired her with the Radojicics, who wanted to give back to their community during the season and help a family in need. The program gives sponsor families the chance to connect with a single family and provide them gifts and food for a holiday meal.
At the Hansen residence, Dunsan and his sons hauled in a bag full of presents much to the Hansen children’s delight.
After getting permission, the two youngest girls immediately ripped open their presents. Since Melissa had shared their lists, the Radojicics knew just what toys to get – a noisy musical toy and a stuffed rabbit. They even helped their older siblings open their gifts. There were big grins and many kind words of thanks.
For Melissa, it was such a joy to see when not long ago she wasn’t sure how she’d be able to provide Christmas to her kids. Originally from Illinois, she had moved her family across country and was struggling with the expenses of relocating while also trying to establish herself and her family in a new area.
“With seven kids and a new environment, it’s difficult to make a decision on what I should spend money on,” Melissa said. “Should I pay my rent or pay for food? It's those types of questions I asked myself when I first got here and had no support.”
She learned about the Adopt-A-Family program and enrolled while was visiting SVdP’s Resource Center, which offers legal advice among other services like showers, clothing, hygiene items, and bill assistance.
“At first I wasn’t sure if I would be judged for asking for help, but everyone was so nice and made me feel welcome.” Melissa said, “They helped me see that it was just human beings helping other human beings. Everyone needs help sometimes.”
Dunsan empathized with that sentiment.
“I know what it’s like to start again in a new place with a large family,” Dunsan said. “This is one of the reasons why I continue to volunteer with Adopt-a-Family.”
As a regional claims supervisor at Farmers Insurance, Dunsan has helped sponsor a couple of families before when his work group decided to participate in the Adopt-A-Family program. In 2019, Farmers Insurance adopted 12 families. Melissa’s family was one of them.
Last year, SVdP’s Adopt-A-Family program delivered holiday joy to more than 900 families. Because of the unusually tough year it’s been financially for so many, it expects more families than ever to need its help. That’s why SVdP is hoping more people will consider participating as a sponsor in the program this year.
Sponsors are asked to buy and wrap two new presents (toy and clothing) for each child under 16, and one present each for older siblings, parents and grandparents living in the same household. In lieu of supplying the ingredients for a holiday meal this year, sponsors will provide a gift card to an accessible grocer so each family can purchase their own ingredients for their own special holiday meal.
Delivering Christmas to the Hansens last year gave Dunsan and his family a special experience to remember and hopefully continue in the years to come.
“Reaching out to a family, unpacking the food, sitting and having coffee and tea, watching children open presents…it’s knowing that our small tokens made someone feel welcome,” Dunsan said. “And it helped them to celebrate the holiday season for what it truly is – a time to remember with family and to show love and care for one another.”
This year that tradition may look a little different with social distancing and delivering to doorsteps, but the hope is to still spread that same love and cheer this holiday.
To sponsor a family, call 602-261-6820 or contact firstname.lastname@example.org. SVdP is accepting requests to “adopt” until Dec. 4. SVdP will provide instructions for best health and safety practices in response to the pandemic.