Thoughts on the Holiday Gift Program

The author, Lauren Montanaro, coordinating volunteers in the Gift Room

As many of you know, this week was REACH’s Holiday Gift Program. Our generous donors gave gifts to 260 families (800 people) who have experienced domestic violence and work with REACH. Our Community Engagement Specialist Lauren Montanaro wrote this reflection on yesterday’s party, where most of the gifts were distributed. 

Each year, REACH hosts a Holiday Gift Program for survivors of domestic violence. Each year, I have the privilege of supporting this program and helping to re-bag and distribute these gifts to the folks we work with.

This week is always so emotional for me. To see the generosity of so many donors… churches, synagogues, corporate offices, and so many individuals so freely giving of their resources to brighten a stranger’s day… I have personally moved each and every one of these bags multiple times, each time thinking we’ve created enough space for what’s still coming, and each time realizing that the generosity of our donors has been more than I could imagine.

A typical day this week of sorting in the gift room.

Compound that with the generosity of our volunteers. This week, they’ve sat on dusty floors and helped us re-bag gifts for 800 people to make them easier to organize and carry. Volunteers who have walked out in the frigid cold and rain to help donors carry carloads of gifts. Volunteers who have helped us bring out the mountains of trash and recycling that accumulates from the boxes and bags gifts are delivered in. Volunteers who bring us coffee to keep up our energy… Volunteers who will drive through the snow this morning to go pick up our last carloads of gifts.

Tonight is when the magic happens. Tonight is when we will throw a party to celebrate together.

Our “Reindeer” volunteers who carried gifts out to survivors’ cars.

Santa will come, there will be cookies to decorate, dinner to be eaten, crafts to be created. And presents to be distributed. Tonight, in 13 degree weather, a team of volunteers will gather in this room and act as “Reindeer” to carry gifts to survivor’s cars… Each year, I have this incredible privilege to bear witness to fruits of our labor. Tonight, survivors will come pick up their gifts, and eyes will widen as bags and boxes and sometimes huuuuge bags filled with bikes or bean bag chairs or larger-than-life-sized teddy bears, will be brought to them. Imagine the eyes of the child coming forward to see that Santa’s Elves came through a bit early this year. The survivor, who has lived in fear, terror, and isolation for decades, receiving a gift for the first time in years. These presents are material, but they’re so much more than that. These gifts speak. They say, “You are valid. You, are worthy. You, are a person who has survived incredible pain, and survival shouldn’t just be about basic needs like socks and personal hygiene. You deserve to thrive. And I see you. I see that you are an artist, so here are some canvases and paint. I see that you are a super-hero, here is your cape. I see you, and you are more than your trauma. I see you as the person you are.”

And amid the chaos of life, tonight we pause to celebrate. I am grateful every day for the privilege to work at such an incredible agency. Today is one of the most special of days.

Grateful but tired REACH staff!