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Adopt a Family 2020

Posted on February 19, 2021

Since 2013, St. John’s Episcopal Auxiliary has coordinated an annual holiday Adopt-a-Family program benefitting families in need in New York’s Rockaway community. In most years, the program is a communal event, with members of churches across the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island meeting at church social gatherings to plan, shop, and make holiday dreams come true. In 2020, social distancing meant that the Auxiliary, church members and other volunteers had to think differently.

While church attendance and group meetings were restricted for much of the year due to the pandemic, volunteers and donors were able to connect virtually and plan from a distance to make this year a great success.

“Adopt-a-Family is a wonderful initiative that helps make the holiday season a blessed and joyous occasion for our patients and families in need,” said Nancy Leghart, Director of Foundation, St. John’s Episcopal Hospital. “This year, the need was greater than ever, and the donors and volunteers across our area overcame obstacles and reimagined the program in creative ways, delivering gifts and holiday joy to 49 families.”

Thirty-two Episcopal churches throughout Queens, Nassau and Suffolk counties adopted families, as did St. John’s Episcopal Hospital team members and community members. Six churches opted to send checks to the Foundation department at St. John’s, which were used to purchase items for families and ensure that every family received a grocery gift card.

“It went surprisingly well, given the challenges and limitations that we had,” said Maria Finley, member of Grace Episcopal Church, Whitestone, New York, and co-chair of the Adopt-a-Family Committee. “The congregations that adopted families were far more generous than the lists they were provided. And I think that just reflects that we’re all aware of how great the need was during this year.”

Each year clinical staff at the St. John’s Episcopal Hospital identify patient families with financial need. Families are asked to provide a list of items. Often, these “wish list” items are every day necessities that many take for granted, such as socks, underwear, and toiletries.

Leading up to the 2020 holiday season, there was concern that the program might not be able to make the same impact that it has in previous years. But, the Auxiliary saw donors step up and find ways to help the hard-hit community.

“Many churches were not meeting, and we thought that it would be difficult for donors to purchase these gifts,” said June Gerbracht, a long-time Adopt-a-Family volunteer and subcommittee member, and member of the Church of St. Jude in Wantagh, New York.

“We couldn’t have more than 25 people at our biggest service, and we didn’t have coffee hour, so we didn’t really see people,” said Mary Jane DeVito, who organized the Adopt-a-Family program at St. James Episcopal Church in St. James, New York. But, according to Ms. DeVito, through phone calls and hard work, church members were able to make the program a success, and make some very special moments happen.

While St. James’ family’s wish list included clothing, sneakers, and underwear, donors were excited to make holiday dreams come true for the family’s children: for the 8 year old, a guitar, and for the 14 year old girl, a lovely dress for her upcoming Quinceañera.

Like many who have pivoted to working and communicating through Zoom calls, some churches found technology to be a great ally in their efforts. “You have to be very organized, and technology helps,” said Kris Stone, a congregant of the Church of St. Jude who has volunteered for the church’s Adopt-a-Family initiative for 20 years.

“This year, my daughter helped set up Signup Genius. Items had to be wrapped at home, and dropped off either at the church or at my house. We were overwhelmed by the response. In addition to nine large garbage bags full of gifts, we collected $850 in cash, $300 in Stop & Shop gift cards.”

The success of the program this year, in spite of the pandemic, gives the Auxiliary and its donors and volunteers great aspirations for this year’s initiative. “We set a goal for 50 families, which we easily met,” said Ms. Gerbracht. “And based on the way it went this year, we’ll be able to serve many more people next year.”



About St. John’s Episcopal Auxiliary: The St. John’s Episcopal Hospital Auxiliary is an advisory committee within Episcopal Health Services that supports, enhances and promotes health care in the Far Rockaway community through volunteering and fundraising initiatives. These initiatives help to provide much-needed necessities to patients of the hospital, and the local community. Learn more about the Auxiliary and its initiatives at https://ehs.org/giving/hospital-auxiliary.


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