This is an interview done by our guest blogger, Minnie A.
Christmastime brings many emotions to different families each year. For some it can be a time of great joy and celebration and gift giving, but for others it can only be treated as another regular day of trying to provide for the children and put food on the table. I grew up Jewish, and although we do not celebrate the holiday we still use it to spend time together in the warmth and comfort of our home dressed in fuzzy pajamas, drinking hot cocoa by the fire.
As special as our “Christmas tradition” is, this year I’d like to do something that will allow other families to share the holiday spirit in the warmth and comfort of their home. Project Elf brings people together of all backgrounds and diversities to not only give families a merry home and a merry Christmas – but a merry life as well.
I’ve interviewed a few volunteers who have worked with Project Elf to gain a better understanding of exactly what goes into making this special project a reality.
Interview with Valarie:
Q: How did you get connected with Project Elf?
A: I’ve worked with two of the Christmas Eve house projects and for the past three years I’ve held a big party where I invite guests to bring donations for Project Elf. That has brought in a lot of stuff – clothing, household items, toiletries – which is kind of fun. It’s a big party: a party with a purpose, and people are so generous.
Q: Do you have any memories/stories that have stuck with you?
A: It’s just kind of amazing to watch a group of people – and a lot of us don’t even know each other – come together to help a family who we also don’t even really know. I especially enjoy working on the Christmas Eve house – it’s just so amazing. Everybody has an assignment, an area that they work on. Some people work on the kitchen, some do the living room, some the bedroom, and some people are just cleaning, painting or organizing. Everybody has a task and everybody just does it so well.
Q: What is the age range of volunteers? Who is the youngest volunteer you’ve worked with?
A: I think the youngest was probably around only nine or ten.
Q: Do entire families get involved?
A: Sometimes they do. There are some people who have decided that Project Elf is going to be their Christmas Eve tradition and they will celebrate Christmas on Christmas Day.
Q: Do volunteers grow connections with the families they are helping?
A: They don’t really get to know the families, but we do follow their stories and updates for years. Mickey will send out a list in November or early December telling us about the family, the ages of the kids, the sizes they wear, and what their “big wish” is – something that they would love to dream about but never expect to really have. And so that’s kind of the only way we get to know them.
Usually a day or two after Christmas, Mickey will interview the family about their reaction. All the volunteers leave on Christmas Eve when we’re done with the house so the family can come home and have the surprise all to themselves. So we’re not there – we don’t see their reaction at all.
Q: Is there ever any reflection time with the other volunteers afterwards to absorb what you’ve just done?
A: When we’re all done, we have a little toast with Sparkling Cider. That’s really about it. It would be a great idea to have everybody get together and really think and talk about what just happened, what they loved about the experience and possibly talk about how to make it all run more smoothly in the future (it looks chaotic, but is actually very organized chaos).
Q: How many volunteers participate in the Christmas Eve house move-in?
A: It depends on the house and what all needs to be done…probably around thirty people.
Q: Is there anything you’d like to share for people to take away from your experience?
A: You as a volunteer walk away with so much more than you ever expected. You get to see that you’ve actually done something. It’s not a TV show. It’s real life. You’re really changing somebody’s life and that’s pretty amazing. It does give you a really good feeling.
Interview with Toni:
Q: How did you get started working with Project Elf?
A: I do a joint venture with Mikey Mikeworth. We do a class called “New Lease on Life.” In our class, we choose a family or families based on their need and decide who can connect with Project Elf. What Project Elf does is it gives families a fresh start in life.
Q: How many years have you been a part of Project Elf?
A: Hmm…I’m not good with time. I want to say about seven years. I knew about Project Elf before I took over my position – so yes, I’ll round off to seven years.
Q: Do you keep in touch with the clients/families that Project Elf has worked with?
A: Oh yes, they always call me! Four or five of them still come by and see me. As an example, Evelyn hasn’t changed a thing in her house. She has everything exactly the same way we left it – and it’s been two years.
Q: Do you have any specific memories or stories that you’ll always hold onto?
A: The happiness of the children always sticks with me. I’ve never been homeless so I don’t know what it’s like not to have my own bed or my own bedroom. Just hearing them tell me how it was that day…and how they could tell that someone had been in their home…and how they got everything they had ever wished for.
I had a client who wanted just some corn for her son who loved corn. So they were given cases and cases of canned corn. It was “nothing” to the person who donated that, but it meant everything to that mom. I have so many stories, and if I tell you them all I’ll be weeping, it’s just so heart touching. I don’t know why people wouldn’t do it…it’s just to help the betterment of mankind. What an amazing thing.
Q: Is it also your role to do outreach and help others get connected with the project?
A: Yes, in a sense. If Mickey asks me for something, I’ll gladly assist her. But pretty much she’s got it all together. I don’t know how we’d do it without her. People just kind of come out of the woodwork for her! It’s pretty much the same folks who volunteer because they just like what it does, how it feels.
Q: Do you have a statement or message to be shared with past, current, and future volunteers through this article that really encompasses the meaning behind Project Elf?
A: You can tell them from me, Toni, who’s a family service worker, a heartfelt “thank you” for all that they do. They work for the betterment of mankind through that simple gesture of giving a bus card or a gift card, or buying a toy or painting a room. It changes people’s lives so that they too can become the betterment of mankind. And it’s just helped so many families, and they share what happened to them on that particular Christmas with others who come and seek out our closets. We have people who come to our closets who have never been truly homeless, but they know we may have something in those closets to help them. It’s just wonderful.
I can’t thank them enough for all they that they do for homelessness. It’s just an amazing thing to see the kindness of people – strangers who don’t even know each other who will take their time, effort, and money, to be kind. I just thank them so much.
That’s about as much as I can say without crying! It just touches me; you have no idea how these families are moved and are simply speechless.
At the end of the day, when everybody leaves, they come home and ask, “Can you pinch me? Am I dreaming?” “Why did they do this for me?” And I end up telling them all the time, “Why not you? Why not you?” People are so private in their struggles of everyday life. They don’t always tell their stories. When you tell your story, you can get results and things to make your life better.
So that’s what I would say.
Guest Blogger – Minnie A.