Charity lauds community's spirit of giving over holidays


Published: Tuesday, January 2, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 1, 2007 at 11:10 p.m.

When all was said and done, coordinators at the Volunteer Center of North Central Florida said they received more donations than they ever expected for their annual Hope for the Holidays program.

Facts

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How to give year-round:

  • To donate time or money to the Volunteer Center any time of the year, you can either visit www.volunteer gainesville.org, or call the center at 378-2552.
  • Be ready to tell them what you have an interest in doing and how far you're willing to drive from your home to do it.

So much, in fact, they had piles of leftover food and gifts they simply couldn't use.

"We cannot say enough nice things about the generous holiday spirit that this community showed," said Pat Bellis, the interim director at the Volunteer Center.

In total, 293 families were provided a Christmas through the Hope for the Holidays program, Bellis said. Of those, 243 were adopted by either local businesses, organizations or individuals. The rest of the families were provided for using donations the Volunteer Center received.

Bellis said the Volunteer Center received so many donations, the staff ended up giving away some of the items to other local charities.

"We had some items such as Barbie dolls or fire engine trucks that never go out of season," Bellis said. "So we know next year those toys will be just as popular as they were today."

But for toys and food that wouldn't necessarily keep until next year, Bellis said they divvied items up among other organizations. The St. Francis House, for example, received 3,500 pounds of food that the Volunteer Center had left over.

"Also, we ask people to give us slightly used or new items for donations, but some people want to give and give us things that are more than slightly used," Bellis said. "We accepted them and then gave them to the Gainesville Community Thrift Shop."

Bellis said local businesses such as Nationwide Insurance, Shands at the University of Florida and others were major participants in adopting families this year. But school groups, church groups and individuals throughout the community also gave generously.

Since 1982, the Volunteer Center has coordinated Hope for the Holidays. The program is co-sponsored by The Sun, the Rotary Club of Gainesville, Gainesville Jaycees and United Way.

Bellis said many people chose not to exchange presents with co-workers for Christmas this year, and instead donated that money to a needy family.

"I heard that story over and over again," she said.

Whether it was to help an elderly man who asked for nothing but pajamas, slippers and toilet paper for Christmas, or a family of five who needed new furniture and toys for their young ones, Bellis said everyone who adopted a family through Hope for the Holidays tried to go above and beyond the suggested limit of $50 per person.

"So many of the families went out of their way to do more than what people asked for. They were very creative," she said.

The week before Christmas, more than 100 volunteers spent countless hours at the Alachua County Fairgrounds, wrapping and distributing presents for the nearly 300 families. Bellis said the Volunteer Center could not have pulled off the massive give-away without the help of people who gave their time last week.

"Gainesville is just remarkable," she said. "And a wonderful 'thank you' to volunteers that came out and wrapped and wrapped and wrapped presents with a smile on their face."

Alice Wallace can be reached at 374-5036 or alice.wallace@ gvillesun.com

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