Our Neighbor’s Child has been providing holiday gifts to families in financial crisis for 23 years. With the help over 400 volunteers they serve more than 800 families in Western Fairfax County. Through gift drives hosted by local churches, schools, and businesses the deliver gifts, along with wrapping paper and holiday cookies, for more than 2,200 children each December. With the help of donated warehouse space to work in and software designed specifically for Our Neighbor’s Child to organize the information provided by the state, they have created an incredibly efficient and thorough system for processing and fulfilling needs in the community. Each family is given wrapping paper for the donated gifts, and the Student Government Associations from surrounding high schools donate holiday cookies to be delivered with the gifts. The donated gifts are sorted in the warehouse into piles for each household, resulting in a quick and hassle-free process for delivery volunteers.
The operation which has been perfected over two decades began as a much smaller act of kindness back in 1991. Founder and executive director Kelly Lavin was signing her 4-year-old up for pre-school at her church when she was tapped on the shoulder by the pastor. “I thought I was in trouble for talking,” she said when she was pulled away from the other mothers. Instead, she was singled out as someone who seemed to know a lot of people—and she does. Earlier that day the pastor had received a crying phone call from his sister at the food pantry she volunteered for. Families had been coming to her and asking to trade in their Thanksgiving turkey and canned good for something their kids could unwrap on Christmas morning. At the pastor’s request, Kelly rounded up some of her friends and donated holiday gifts for five families that year—a total of 15 kids. The operation remained small in scope and in volunteers for several years. “The gifts were initially piled in my living room, we had to clear all the furniture out,” says Lavin. Moving first into a local community center and eventually into unused warehouses, they have grown to nearly 70 times their original size.
The massive size increase has made Our Neighbor’s Child a full time job for Kelly for the last 23 years, but it despite the challenges and the stress it has only strengthened her faith in people and in the belief that everything happens for a reason. A few years ago when blizzard size snows hit the DC area on the Friday before Sunday delivery day the phone was ringing off the hook with volunteers asking to move the delivery day. “We have to go forward,” Lavin told them all. “This was the day the families were told to be home, this is the day we have the most volunteers… we have to go forward.” When Sunday morning came, she received a new onslaught of calls from volunteers who had called neighbors with 4-wheel drive to help them make the deliveries. Someone even recruited a neighbor with a snowplow to clear the warehouse parking lot. That year Our Neighbor’s Child had more volunteers on delivery day than they ever had before. She knew she’d made the right decision when they arrived at households where families had shoveled themselves out their front door and to the street, confident that the volunteers and the gifts would come. When I met with Kelly at the end of October they still did not have a warehouse to work out of for the 2014 deliveries. But Lavin doesn’t worry anymore; she’s seen it all before, and puts her faith in the kindness and enthusiasm of her volunteers to bring it all together in the end.
Our Neighbor’s Child welcomes any gifts for children up to 18 years old, especially gifts for teenagers. If they collect more gifts than they can use, they donate the surplus to other organizations in the area. “One year we were able to give an entire truckload of gifts to SERVE in Manassas,” says Lavin. Gifts can be dropped off at Jammin’ Java, Attn: Music Makes Life Better. To learn more about how you can help out, or to register for one of the volunteer dates, visit ourneighborschild.org or check out their volunteer handbook: http://bit.ly/1yfoeWo
Come out on November 24th at 7:30pm to Music Makes Life Better for Our Neighbor’s Child feat. Dear Creek + AJ Smith + Neal Carpenter to support their efforts and for a great night of local music and prizes! Get a free raffle entry for two Jammin’ Java tickets when you bring a toy donation! Tickets at: http://bit.ly/11oqvED