Actively giving back during the holiday season is the gift that keeps on giving for many Central Florida families. Mending Hearts Charities, HOPE Helps Inc and Orange County Fire Rescue has programs that helps residents do just that.
During the holidays, families come together for big Christmas dinners, gift exchanges, decorating and quality time. This year, why not grow closer with your family through coming together to do good for someone else?
Donating money is a helpful way to do your part, but for those looking to actively give back this holiday season, there are many volunteer opportunities that family members of all ages can do together.
Mending Hearts Charities has a program that matches participating families with families in need to help them with a variety of requests, from providing groceries to assisting with rent payments. Similarly, Orange County Fire Rescue has an Adopt a Fire Station program that has been bringing holiday cheer to firefighters for five years now. HOPE Helps Inc, a nonprofit organization that focuses on preventing homelessness, holds an event every December where volunteers can distribute food, toys, and other basic needs to the homeless.
Be a Support System
Mending Hearts Charities, a nonprofit that helps low-income families in becoming self-sufficient and maintaining economic stability, gives the community a chance to give unto others. Its Adopt A Family program matches families in need with a family who is willing to help in a number of ways. And this program offers support for those in need all year long, not just during the holiday season.
During Christmastime, representatives from Mending Hearts reach out to families in need, asking the adults to make a list of their basic needs and asking the children to write Dear Santa letters that list what they want for Christmas. The children are also asked to list what they want to get their mom and dad for Christmas if they could.
The organization uses these lists to match the family in need with people that want to donate their time and charitable gifts during this season of giving back. These individuals or families can then choose to help the family they adopted by paying their mortgage for the month, providing food or giving gifts. In some cases, the families receiving assistance will allow the family they were matched with to enter their home and let them help out with their Christmas celebrations.
For the families receiving assistance, the help means a lot. Clyde, a veteran that has benefitted from the Adopt A Family program, returned from duty to find the life he left at home falling apart. Stephanie Richards, an employee at Mending Hearts, found Clyde and his family a support team to help with the struggles that they were going through. “The mentors she introduced us to have been invaluable,” he says. “They treat us like family. Mending Hearts is our angel here on earth.”
Help the Homeless
Hope Helps Inc (HOPE) is a nonprofit organization that focuses on housing, outreach, prevention and education to help prevent homelessness in Central Florida. It holds an event called Christmas in the City every December. People in the community can drop off donations for the toy drive prior to the day of the event and then volunteers will come and organize them in preparation for the event.
This will be the eighth year that Christmas in the City will be benefiting the community. HOPE collects new unwrapped toys, gift cards, clothing items and school supplies all in preparation to give out to families for the holidays. During Christmas in the City, individuals are not only provided with the items listed above but each family also receives a complete Christmas dinner, a professional portrait, and a hot meal is served the day of the event.
Whether you choose to donate monetarily, donate items, hold a donation drive or volunteer on the day of the event, anything helps. Kristina Rose of East Orlando and her family have donated toys for the past three years and have volunteered to sort donations in advance of the event for the past two years. “It has provided us with a way to focus on giving, not getting, and it has de-commercialized Christmas for us,” she says.
This year’s event is scheduled for Dec. 12 and will be held at University Carillon United Methodist Church. Pre-registration is required to attend.
Adopt a Fire Station
Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs started the Adopt a Fire Station program with Orange County Fire Rescue in 2012 to give members of the community a chance to bring holiday cheer to Orange County firefighters while they are away from their families during the holidays. The program began last month and will run through the end of December.
Citizens, organizations and local businesses can choose a fire station to adopt and then schedule a visit with the firefighters. During the visit, participants can tour the station, bring food and other holiday treats to share, and most importantly, provide company for the firefighters that are hard at work.
Tiana Davis, who schedules the Adopt a Fire Station visits, has seen the benefits of this initiative in the gratitude from the firefighters and in the genuine excitement from the groups who are adopting them. “This is a heartwarming and humbling event for our firefighters,” Orange County Fire Chief Otto Drozd III says. “It is a wonderful feeling to have the community say thank you while our firefighters spend the holiday season away from their families. We are excited to host the event at our stations.”
Many of the fire stations involved in this program are very active within their communities aside from their daily jobs, so the families that take part consider them an extension of their families. That is why some of the participating families show their gratitude longer than just the months of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Some choose to give back to the firefighters at every holiday all year long.
Last year, 29 of the 41 Orange County fire stations were adopted, and this year’s goal is to have all 41 stations adopted throughout the holidays.