Thanksgiving marks the start of the secular winter holiday season, when many struggling Atlanta families seek assistance from local organizations. That’s where Jewish Family & Career Services’ holiday gift program comes in.
The 22-year-old program founded by Jody Reichel, who continues to oversee the program and was just elected to the Sandy Springs City Council, aims to provide families the best holiday experience by offering them donated gifts and gift cards.
“The mentality behind the program is to help clients create a holiday even though they may not be able to themselves,” said JF&CS young adult program coordinator, Jackie Nix.
“The program gives our clients the ability to provide a nice holiday for their family and kids where they may not do so in any other way,” Nix said. “It also gives us the chance to provide exactly what the kids want, from their favorite toy to a type of clothing and anything they can think of.”
JF&CS tries to be specific rather than generalize about the needs of clients.
“We don’t just want to say we have a 4-year old and people should buy what they think is perfect for them but actually tell individuals, ‘This 4-year-old really likes Legos or Marvel Comics,’” Nix said.
She added, “We try to make this as personal as possible so we can do the best job of buying gifts which are very specific to each family.”
Since last year, the program has evolved from just providing Chanukah gifts to assisting non-Jews and older adults. The program has helped 74 families in the past year, including 25 with children under age 18.
“We hope the numbers will go down and remain static,” Nix said, reflecting a decrease in the need.
“Our goal is to help our clients reach self-sufficiency and … support them in any way we can,” JF&CS marketing manager Chantal Spector said. “A big job for parents is making sure kids have a wonderful holiday, but when they are dealing with so much stress, based on whatever situation they are in, … we want to do anything we can to make their lives better.”
One of the biggest challenges for the program is having enough money and gift cards to fulfill all the requests rather than provide just one present per child.
“We really don’t like to skimp on any of the gifts, so these kids are not just getting one bag full of stuff, but four or five presents they would normally receive for the holidays,” Nix said.
People can donate at www.jfcsatl.org/donate/hanukkah or adopt a family and go holiday shopping with them. Nix said the program is always looking for $25 gift cards to Target, Walmart or Publix, which can be mailed to the JF&CS office at 4549 Chamblee-Dunwoody Road, Atlanta, GA 30338.
In addition to the holiday gift program, JF&CS supports families at Passover through Maos Chitim, which helps with Passover-kosher food, and at Rosh Hashanah through a program led by the Hebrew Order of David.
“Families that need help can come to us all year round, from the kosher food pantry to our counseling services and career services,” Spector said.
“One of the most rewarding parts of the chair position has been witnessing so many of the same families donate gifts each year during the past two decades,” Reichel said. “These families have now raised their own children who are donating gifts, having learned the meaning of tzedakah.”