"Thank you for all the things that you gave Andy to make his Christmas a happy one," she writes. "I wish you could have seen his face on Christmas morning when he opened his gifts. The joy and happiness was something to have seen...God bless you."
The letter of thanks is one of the many received by Facilities Services Assistant Director Paula Forget, who for 18 years has collected Christmas clothing and toys for the neediest of children, in a campus drive that has grown to rival the North Pole enterprise of St. Nick.
This holiday season, Forget is collecting clothing for 600 children served by the state Department of Social Services, and clothing and toys for 50 youngsters at the Italian Home, a residential care center in Jamaica Plain for children who have suffered emotional and physical abuse.
Donations that pour in by the thousands from co-workers across Boston College are stored in the trade shops in Ignacio Hall and distributed in the days before Christmas by Forget and four or five volunteer helpers.
"I used to run all the gifts in myself, but it got too big," said Forget, who has worked at Boston College for 26 years. "It's grown and grown and grown.
Facilities Services Assistant Director Paula Forget wrapping one of the many gifts contributed by members of the BC community for the annual holiday clothing and toy drive she has organized for 18 years: "It means a lot to me to do this because it really touches my heart." (Photo by Justin Knight)
"It means a lot to me to do this because it really touches my heart. By the time Christmas arrives with my family, my job is done. I can sit back and relax."
Response from the BC community to her annual drive has been overwhelming, she said.
Athletic Director Gene DeFilippo and his staff send gifts of surplus athletic clothing throughout the year, the team jackets and jerseys a hit with the teens on her shopping list. "That makes me feel good boxing those up," she said.
Each BC athletic team "adopts" a child through an effort coordinated by the Office of Learning Resources for Student Athletes, sending along such gifts as autographed footballs and posters signed by every member of the BC women's basketball team.
This year students active in Campus Ministry have taken the names of 30 children for whom they will buy presents. Students not so angelic in years past have worked off disciplinary sanctions by giving hours to the drive.
Gifts pour in each year from Information Technology thanks, in part, to the vigorous efforts of University Computing Services Manager Maureen Touhey, who "talks it up to a lot of people," said Forget.
Many other offices have been equally generous. Forget adds: "The administration of Boston College has been extremely supportive of this clothing drive each year. Otherwise my work would not have been possible."
The letters that Forget receives from social workers and families help inspire the work she does.
One thank-you letter received this past January was written by Christopher F. Small, executive director of the Italian Home, which cares for abused children ages four to 13.
"It is difficult for anyone to imagine what the holidays are like for children who have experienced as much heartache and disappointment as ours have," he writes.
"Our challenge is to try to create new, cheerful memories of the holidays for our children that will help them in the years to come. This is something we wouldn't be able to do without the help of our friends in the community like you.
"It is through kindness such as yours that we are able to celebrate in a way that makes each child feel special in a warm, safe and happy environment."
Forget recalled another letter of thanks sent two years ago by a mother living with her family in a shelter. The woman wrote: "You made Christmas possible for my children."
To contribute to the drive, contact Forget at ext.2-8875 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The two-year-old program collects donations of food, clothing, toiletries and household items, such as dishes and blankets, for Boston-area families without permanent housing. The families, identified by the Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership, are homeless or are making the transition to public housing. Toys are also collected for a children's Christmas Party sponsored by MBHP. The formal drive has already ended, but donations are always welcome.
For more information, contact Assistant Director for Residential Life Mili Arguello at ext.2-3202.
"I just think it's important for kids, even when they're small, to start learning about the true meaning of the holiday," said Macchioni, a Brockton resident who has a two-year-old daughter and five-year-old son.
This year, Macchioni's good works will be aided by members of the Sunday School class she teaches in Stoughton. The high school-age students perform monthly community service projects through the Sunday School, she explains, but don't mind doing a little extra for the holiday season.
"I've done things at Christmas time pretty much on my own in the past," said Macchioni, "but this year I'm blessed with other people."
Last Saturday, Macchioni and her students - along with her son and young nephew - helped out at a Christmas party organized by the Brockton Lions Club for the local Retarded Citizens Organization. This weekend, she plans to have her daughter accompany her and her charges to a Stoughton nursing home, where they will decorate the residents' doors and offer general holiday cheer.
As young as her children are, Macchioni thinks the Christmas message may be getting through, if last year is any indication. Preparing the family's contribution to a charity drive, she asked her son to root through his toy collection and pick out any playthings he no longer wanted.
"I was expecting him to come back with stuff he had outgrown," Macchioni recalled, "but he brought out toys he still played with. I almost couldn't believe it."
He did not have far to look for an answer. Ellis' wife, Sherry, who works for the Boston office of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, suggested he contact the society's Brighton branch for ideas.
Every Christmas season since then, the Ellises have organized a campus toy drive for the MSPCC Brighton affiliate. Sherry compiles a list of children from the agency, writes their names, ages and desired toys on slips of paper and pastes them on a construction-paper Christmas tree John keeps on display in the BCPD lobby. Volunteers choose a name, obtain and gift-wrap the toy and bring it to the BCPD office in Rubenstein Hall.
The children, who range in age from 4 months to 8 years old, are mostly from poor families with only one parent at home, says Ellis. In some cases, he adds, one of the parents may be involved in, or recovering from, substance abuse.
"These kids are not in very happy situations," said Ellis. "You might think, 'What good is something like this going to do?' But it means a lot to them to know that someone out there cares enough just to get them a toy they want."
(Left) Julia Jakubek, '04, with Ariella Martinez, and Kristen Osborne, '04, with Warner Russell, show off their piggy-back prowess during the Dec. 2 Christmas BUDDY program sponsored by the BC Office of Residential Life for local foster children. (Photo by Justin Knight)
The children, aged 4 to 11 years old, also had the chance to sit on Santa's lap and have their photo taken with him.
"I think the younger kids thought I was the real Santa Claus," said Residence Hall Director Joseph Schott, following his stint as Kris Kringle's stand-in.
"The older kids were suspicious of my dark eyebrows, but I think I may have fooled some of them," joked Schott, a student in the Lynch Graduate School of Education. "I was glad the fake white beard was thick enough to cover my natural beard or none of them would have believed it."
While the children and BC students spent time together, their foster parents attended a pot-luck meal in the Cheverus Hall lounge. Afterwards, a DSS speaker addressed the parents and discussed childhood nutrition and other parenting issues.
"When you see how something like this has a positive effect on someone's holiday season, it becomes really important to you," said Residence Hall Director Leslie A. Garcia, who helped organize the day's activities. "It makes you feel good to be a part of it."
That's why she and a friend are providing gifts and all the holiday trappings for a needy mother's two young children through the Adopt-a-Family program in Rhode Island.
"The fun part of it is that you're doing the whole Christmas for the kids in the family," said Barrett. "You do their stockings. You do for them as you would your own kids.
"This is it - this is their Christmas."
Barrett is a first-time participant in the Woonsocket-based program, which sponsors 800 local families during the holiday season. She and friend Mary Farrell are combining to buy toys, clothing and necessities for the five-year-old girl and four-month-old infant of a poor single mother in the Rhode Island mill town. The two sponsors expect to spend about $150 on each child.
"You think about your own memories of waking up to toys on Christmas morning, and are struck by the thought that there are kids who could wake up to nothing," said Barrett. "There is no reason for it, when we have so much. And it really is fun shopping for kids' things."
"My own daughter is 20 and doesn't want Barbie dolls anymore," said Barrett, a Providence resident whose daughter, Sandra, is a BC junior. "It's nice to buy Barbies for someone again."
Information on the Adopt-a-Family program may be obtained by calling (401)766-2291 or by writing to the charity at 78 Earle Street, Woonsocket, RI, 02895.
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