Adding a little joy to student family holidays

Student worker Lianne Honda adds the finishing touches to one of the hundreds of presents donated to help brighten the lives of student families. (photo: Mark Floyd)

For the third year, the lives of struggling student families will be a little brighter this holiday thanks to the annual Joy Drive, which pairs student families in need with generous OSU donors.

Stephanie Duckett, director of Childcare and Family Resources at Oregon State University, said the program has more than doubled this year, with 52 families receiving holiday gifts, compared to 22 families the previous year. Donations have been so overwhelming that their small office is literally overflowing with gifts.

“We are so grateful that the OSU community has helped to brighten this holiday season for so many student families,” Duckett said. “We do have a generous OSU community.”

Donors ranged from individuals and families to entire departments and divisions and student groups. Last year all donors were from campus, but this year alumni have also asked to be sponsors, with an OSU family from Alaska even joining in.

The office first seeks donors to sponsor a student family, and then contacts student families that demonstrate financial need to see if they’d be interested in being sponsored for the holiday season. Those families selected are asked to provide a list of possible gifts, which is then given to the donor(s).

Student worker Lianne Honda was in charge of this year’s event, with help from Kristi King, director of Our Little Village|Library childcare center on campus, and Duckett said it’s a great learning opportunity to not only manage such a large project, but because there are so many socially complex aspects to the event. For example, more than one third of the student families are international students, who may have a very different approach to gift giving and receiving than American families.

The third annual Joy Drive helped connect sponsors with 55 student families. (photo: Mark Floyd)

Duckett said in some cultures, it’s extremely important to give gifts that are exactly what the recipient wants, which is why those families often provide very detailed lists which have on occasion surprised donors, who take their lists as an indication that the family must not be that needy.

While other social services can provide families with basics like food boxes and warm clothing for Christmas, the Joy Drive’s intention is to give these struggling and sometimes isolated families something special for the holidays, whether that’s a new set of Legos or a fancy holiday dress.

“It’s important not to make value judgments,” Duckett said. “Asking for nice things when you’re in need does not make you selfish. It’s alright for these families to ask for nice things.”

“Our favorite part of the event is when the parents come to pick up the gifts.” said Duckett. “The parents are so grateful to the sponsors and every year we are awed by the abundant generosity shown by our community. We’d like to thank everyone involved for making this year such an overwhelming success.”

~ Theresa Hogue

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