Adopt a Panther started because a few families reached out to the school in desperation for Christmas gifts during the holiday season. That first year, staff, parents, and community members scrambled to help provide a Christmas to just 6 families. The next year, we knew we wanted to do things differently and over the years Adopt a Panther has become its own well oiled machine serving on average over 70 families each year and at least 250 children. We open up applications in October, start recruiting for volunteers, and by Thanksgiving most of our families are being shopped for and we start planning for the party. We collect the gifts, start sending out party invitations to families, and the week before we get out we get together with all our families to celebrate this season and get their gifts to them.
We pride ourselves on the unique experience it is for everyone involved. Our entire organization became what it is through the adopted notion that we have a responsibility to care for and help our neighbors. These are our people, our community, and together we have the ability to care for one another. For our Adopt a Panther volunteers, this means that their contribution is going directly to someone who shares in this community with them. Many of them are shopping for families that roam the same streets, shop at the same stores, and have children in the same schools and classrooms. Even some of our very own student organizations and teams adopt these families. Each of them picks gifts from the families wish list, shops for them, and wraps the gifts to then be neatly wrapped in our santa bags for families to take home.
For our families, this isn’t your regular assistance program. We incorporate little details to make it extra special. Each family receives an anonymous Christmas name. You’d be surprised how even teenagers get a kick out of getting to be the Rudolf or Candy Cane family. They receive a party invitation for their whole family that ask them to join us in celebrating the season with a Winter Wonderland carnival complete with games, pictures with santa, DIY ornaments, hot chocolate bars, and snacks. They come, they enjoy themselves, they celebrate, and then leave with their gifts in hand ready for Christmas morning.
There’s a reason why we do this. We put in this extra effort and spend the extra funds because we believe that there is value in ensuring that our families feel celebrated and not pitied. At our core, we value restoring and maintaining dignity for our families. That is why we do things with excellence and put in the extra effort because every one of our families is deserving of this. Each year, we have the privilege to celebrate the Christmas season with our Panther family in this unique way. It is my favorite time of the year and we are already so looking forward for next year!
From our family to yours, Merry Panther Christmas!