December 21, 2016
By Guest Blogger

Volunteer Voices: Holiday Gift Party

by Paul Crocetti

The author, Paul Crocetti

“Everybody’s happy there.”

That was the joyous sentiment of an attendee of REACH’s annual Holiday Gift Party, as she waited for volunteers to bring her gifts.

This year, 300 people – domestic violence survivors and their families – attended the party and 250 families received gifts through REACH’s Holiday Gift Program. The evening also featured crafts for children, a delicious dinner donated by Blue Ribbon BBQ and a visit from Santa Claus that lit up the room.

It was an overwhelmingly special evening. The party showcased what I feel are three essential pieces of the holidays: Volunteering, giving and enjoyment.

For an organization that isn’t enormous, the party is an enormous undertaking. I was impressed with the amount of detailed planning that goes into an event of this caliber: From securing the location, to matching up people and businesses with family wish lists, to gathering and training volunteers, to having an efficient system for giving the gifts away on the day of the party.

I was happy to have two tasks during the party – taking photos of volunteers setting up and bringing gifts out to cars.

The photo assignment was great (and I’d love to do it again) – volunteers of many ages were excited and very colorfully dressed, some in bright Christmas sweaters, some adorned with head pieces like reindeer antlers. And they were so pleasant to speak with, many asking how I came to volunteer for this event.

I learned about the valuable work that REACH does when I was editor of the Waltham News Tribune between 2013 and 2015. After switching jobs, I wanted to get involved in the organization. So I have served as a member of the planning committee for REACH’s annual Waltham Neighborhoods Fall Festival (another fantastic event) for the last two years. I was looking for a way to get further involved in REACH, and the Holiday Gift Party and domestic violence training seemed like a perfect fit.

Before the party, I participated in two training sessions at REACH that featured conversations about such important matters as different types of abuse, warning signs, how abuse can escalate and how trauma impacts children. Our conversations and readings served as important preparation for the party.

We read a powerful piece about one survivor’s experience with the Holiday Gift Program. She wrote about how she received every single one of the items on her wish list:

“As I picked up the presents from REACH, I felt tightness in my chest, clearly seeing the exact doll stroller my daughter asked for. I felt dizzy and hot, eyeing the impossible to find specialty toy for my son. I couldn’t breathe as the aroma of a fruity candle drifted up to me. The final straw was being handed wrapping paper and TAPE. This crushed me. How attentive! I just crumbled. TAPE: I have needed tape for so long. Just to hang my children’s treasured colorings and homework on the kitchen wall. I had to pull over into the next parking lot; I could not see clearly enough to drive.

“I understand now why I burst into tears when I picked up the gifts. They were picked with thought and care. And you hadn’t even known me. Did you know that I stumbled through my words, barely audible, that I looked at the floor when I spoke? Had you known I have gone most of my life not getting my needs met? Being denied by explanations such as that I had not asked or had failed to ask correctly, that I had used the wrong tone of voice, that it had been a stupid thing to ask for anyway? Did you know I was accustomed to this?”

Do you see what kind of impact you can have on someone? For anyone looking to give more or volunteer more around the holidays, I urge you to participate in this program. This is what Christmas and the holidays are all about.

I will always remember the sight in the gift room of the rows and rows of bags of presents, ready to be presented to families. The gifts filled up a very large room. The space under the Boston Common tree wouldn’t be able to hold all of them.

The gift room full of goodies, just before distribution began.

Beyond the presents, REACH’s attention to detail was inspiring: Having a Spanish-speaking volunteer at the check-in table, offering tape and wrapping paper, getting volunteers to bring the presents to the cars.

The families were very kind and appreciative. Even on one of the coldest days of the year, many smiled warmly as they left. Some were pleasantly surprised that we would be carrying the gifts for them.

I’m so happy I volunteered for this event – I plan to help out at it again for years to come.

Paul Crocettiis a writer/editor at TechTarget in Newton. He previously served as editor of the Waltham News Tribune. He has been a member of the planning committee for REACH’s Waltham Neighborhoods Fall Festival since 2015.

To see more photos from the evening, including some of the great shots that Paul took, click here. To learn more about volunteering with REACH, click here.