q & a: Warm the Children volunteer aims to serve 50 recipients this season
As the winds get gusty and the temperatures fall, there are 3,000 kids in our community who are cold; they don’t have sufficient warm clothes for the winter months ahead. Over the course of the upcoming weeks, they’ll be warm.
The community, schools, AnnArbor.com, and key partners Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation and United Bank and Trust work together to assure that each child has warm winter clothing.
Warm the Children provides warm winter clothing to children, by introducing a volunteer shopper to a family in need. Each child is provided $90 worth of new, warm, winter clothing, including jackets, snow pants, boots, hats and mittens.
Each year volunteers come back year after year to offer their time to shop for Warm the Children. They volunteer for their own reasons, and they can choose how much time to give to the program. This year, longtime volunteer Anna Gebstadt has made it her goal to work with 50 recipients this year. I had a chance to ask her about how and why she volunteers her time with Warm the Children:
I've been a volunteer for about 10 years. My family and I immigrated to this country from Italy when I was 8 years old. My parents had it really tough as they didn't speak the language. We didn't know of any social programs that were available to us and we all worked to better ourselves. My father worked for a large bakery company which has been out of business for over 20 years (Sanders). My mother cleaned homes for people. I worked since I was 12 as did my brothers. We were raised with a very strong work ethic and contributed to the household until we married. My husband and I have two daughters and both that are doctors. My brother owns several dealerships in Ann Arbor and Lansing. My two brothers run the dealerships. My sister and her husband own several dealerships in NC. We attribute our successes to the opportunities we were given in this country and to our parents.
The only charity that we accepted and knew of was The Goodfellows. It truly made our Christmas much easier on my parents as the toys and check to purchase clothing at Montgomery Wards were very appreciated. I can still recall the clothes shopping at the store and how excited I was to be able to wear new clothes to school and to look like everyone else. Maybe that explains why my siblings and I are all clothes horses!!
Have you noticed any universal commonalities over the years?
The clients are very appreciative and what I find very inspiring is that some of my clients are trying to better themselves as they are taking college courses. I've had to work around their schedules because some take evening classes and that's when I meet most of my clients is in the evening. Hence, the ones that take classes, I meet in the morning or early afternoon.
Have there been any moments that have stuck with you as particularly special?
There are some that I'll remember forever and some that make me very, very sad. This year, I had a little girl that was clutching a pair of high top, sequenced, laced boots. She must of been all of 5 or 6 years old. Her mother kept on telling her that the boots she was holding would not be included and she should put them back. At the end of the purchases which totaled the $90, her mother again repeated, put them back we don't have enough money left to purchased them. Well, I have 4 granddaughters, and I know how they love their sparkling clothing items. I told the little girl go ahead and put them on the counter and I purchased them for her. They cost all of $25 and I told her mom and her "every girl needs a little sparkle in her life." The look on her mom's face and the little one kissing me made my day. It's moments like that I will remember always.
I've heard you set a goal to work with 50 recipients this year. How do you manage that logistically?
I call the families the minute I receive the Purchase Orders through email. My first call is usually the one that determines what evening or day we will be doing the shopping. I suggest to my clients, "Hey how's Monday night for you?" Most of them are agreeable and then we determine the time. I space them all apart so I can talk to them and make sure they get their full money's worth. I tell them choose a $100 worth as Target gives us a 5% discount and no tax is charged as this is a charity expenditure. 90% of the time I can do 10 families in one night at the same store. This process can take 4 to 6 hours an evening. This year I've done all my families except for three in the Ypsilanti Target. So far I've worked with 25 families and am awaiting additional purchase orders to be sent to me.
Tell me a bit about your background, kids, work, -- really I am curious about how you juggle the rest of your life with the shopping time.
My husband, Richard, and I raised our two daughters with a strong work ethic that we both brought to the marriage. Our daughters worked through high school while attending a private all girl school. They also worked through college (U of M). Our oldest daughter, Christina, and her husband (he's an emergency room doctor) live in Rochester Hills and have four children. Our youngest, daughter, Erica, is married to a high school advanced algebra teacher and they have two children whom I babysit for quite a bit. '
I think the reason I do so well volunteering to this program is because I see my grandkids in all my clients. I hurt for these families, but mostly for the children who have no control of the circumstances their families are in.
I now have more time on my hands to do as much volunteer work as I want. My time is spent with my family, traveling and friends. I find this program very worthwhile and I'm very pleased that every penny contributed to this charity goes to the recipients. The sense of accomplishment for what I do is the biggest reward for me. After evening end as I drive home, I see the little faces, teens and their parents and think "there go I but for the Grace of God."
If you are able to help there are a number of options for doing so:
Donate. If you would like to contribute to Warm the Children, you can use the coupon or link accompanying this story (http://www.annarbor.com/warmthechildren/), or call the Warm the Children hotline at 734-623-2525. Donations also are accepted at any United Bank and Trust branch.
Volunteer. Members of the community can give in a way that feels meaningful, even if they cannot afford to support financially this year. Warm the Children works with volunteers who offer their time as personal shoppers to shop with the recipient families. Each year, AnnArbor.com receives many notes and phone calls sharing stories of gratitude from recipients and volunteer shoppers alike. Sharing in the joy of the children and their parents has become a cherished winter tradition for many of the volunteers who help the families with their purchases. If you have an hour or two to help out with this effort, contact Warm the Children via the Hotline, website, or coupon listing below.
Spread the word. Do you know a family that could benefit from this program? Participation is based on need, and referrals happen through school and community social workers. Do you know of a group that is looking for a special way to give back to the community this season? Suggest they create an event to raise funds for Warm the Children.