Monday, November 26, 2012

Planning for Holiday Assistance at Your School

The holidays are just around the corner and many counselors head up some sort of holiday help program for families in need.  I'm no different, my school sponsors a snowman tree (like an angel tree) for our holiday help program.  It's quite a bit of work to plan and keep track of this but with some planning and help from others, it can be much easier to manage.  Here's what I do:

-Send a letter to families that may be in need of assistance for the holidays (work with your student support team to identify families).  On your letter be sure to ask for clothing sizes (shirt, pants & jacket size) and items that the child(ren) would like as gifts.  It's up to you on what your price limit for the gifts will be.  This year, we are asking parents to list clothing sizes, books that the child(ren) would like, and educational gifts (board games, school supplies) that the children may also need.  It's up to you what direction you want to go with gifts.  Also this year, we put in the letter that in order to receive holiday assistance that parents must have had a conference with their child's teacher (I do check with teachers to make sure that they do).  If parents do not come for a conference their name(s) will not be put on the tree (I'm really sticking to this, school is a collaborate piece that requires parental involvement).

-As the letters are returned, I assign students a number for the snowman tree.  I keep track of this info on a spreadsheet.  I type in the student's name, sizes and gift item requests.

Spreadsheet to keep track of info
-I created cards and labels in Word to pin to the snowman tree using Avery postcard paper and Avery shipping labels.  The labels had the info on what gifts to purchase (shirt size, pants size, book/board game child would like).  The social worker  and I both wrote the info on the labels as the forms were returned.


Label filled out with gift info

-I used 2 cards for each holiday request (Avery Postcards that are already perforated, $6 at Sam's Club).  The 1st (top) card is the general information on what clothing sizes, books, board games to get with return information for the bought gifts (I used both sides of the card for this one).  The 2nd (bottom) card is for parents who want to sponsor a child to fill out so that I can keep track of who has taken what number off the tree to get gifts for.  Having this parent info allows me to know which gifts are "missing" so that I can send a friendly reminder call or email to bring in the gifts.

Holiday request cards, the top card the parents keep for gift info, the bottom card comes back to me.
-It's also a good idea to put on your tree gift cards (in any dollar amount) to grocery stores, department stores, discount stores, etc, because often there will be families in need after the holiday's.  You can give those cards out as needed.  As the gifts are returned myself and the school social worker call parents to pick up the presents (we've had no problems getting parents to come pick up the gifts).

-I hole punched the top of the card and tied red or green yarn in the hole.  I used small safety pins to pin the cards (with the yarn) to the snowman tree.

Cards hole punched with yarn and safety pins

Here's the snowman tree:
Snowman tree

The snowman tree was made by the school nurse and previous counselor from boxes covered with white felt and decorated like a snowman.  Since my school's a magnet school with a Spanish theme, the snowman has on a sombrero and has moroccos in his mittens.

My school is very fortunate to have so many parents to participate in purchasing gifts for our families who might need holiday assistance.  To let the parents know about the snowman tree, I had the principal mention it in her weekly phone message (before the Thanksgiving break so parents could shop on Black Friday).This year, within 2 days nearly all of 45 tags were taken from the snowman tree! I'll be adding more gift card requests to the tree to keep it full. 

What holiday help program(s) does your school do?  I'd love to hear what others are doing at their schools. Pin It


  1. Hi Andrea,

    We've tried this in the past and had lots of enthusiasm and tags taken, but were left scrambling when a lot of people didn't follow through or at the last minute said they didn't have the money to purchase the gifts. We didn't use the duplicate tags, so could try that in the future, but I'm wondering if you have any other suggestions for how to address this problem.

    We are very lucky to have a community group called Holiday Basket Helpers organize a program like this that we make referrals to on behalf of our families who need help with holiday gifts for their kids. Even with an outside group providing this service, it is still a time-consuming process following up with families who are in need but who do not (for whatever reason) get back to us without several reminders.

    As a school community we try to sponsor as many kids as possible through the Holiday Basket Helpers by collecting cash donations (mostly from staff because of the above problem) and then doing all the shopping for the requested items (we have a wonderful para who heads this up and spends her whole Thanksgiving weekend shopping with her team of elves!) We'd like to find a way to incorporate the "Snowman Tree" idea back into the process so that those who wish to sponsor a child's gifts as part of their holiday tradition can have an easy way to do so.

    1. Hey Rebecca! In the event that gifts aren't purchased, we'd use the gift cards to give to the family. Last year all the tags were taken & all gifts were returned for students so it wasn't a problem. I'm very, very fortunate to work in a school where we have lots of parent support and involvement with this project. Maybe because of low turnout for the angel tree, your school could have a book drive or board game drive where parents could purchase books or games that could be given as holiday gifts for students. The holiday basket helpers program sounds wonderful & I'm sure so many families benefit.