By Tara Cavanaugh
In a season full of gift-giving, it’s easy to forget that not everyone gets what he or she wants –– or needs.
The Magic of Christmas Adopt a Family Foundation, founded by former University of Michigan All-American track athlete and former LPGA tour player Debbie Williams-Hoak, has provided hundreds of children and their families with gifts during the holidays since 1996.
This week the foundation is giving 350 Ann Arbor Public School students gifts of clothes, winter coats and boots, toys and gift cards.
The AAPS families are selected by school principals and social workers, said Liz Margolis, AAPS communications director. “They know which ones are in need.”
Parents fill out “wish lists” of wants and needs for their children, and the foundation assigns those lists out to individuals, businesses or organizations that shop for the gifts (or donate money so volunteers can do the shopping).
The AAPS families are picking up their gifts this week at their schools. They’ll be part of the 185 families, including 530 children, in the area who are getting gifts from the foundation this year.
The foundation’s reach wasn’t always as wide. In its first few years, Williams-Hoak worked mostly with the Ann Arbor Police Department to distribute gifts, affecting 20-30 families.
The foundation eventually attracted more support, and five years ago it got a huge boost from sports station WTKA when it made the Magic of Christmas Adopt a Family Foundation its official Christmas charity.
“The very first year they did an event right after Thanksgiving where they asked listeners to adopt children and I would provide them with the wish lists,” Williams-Hoak said. “Those five families were spoken for in 15 minutes.”
Williams-Hoak has seen a lot of changes in the foundation’s 17 years. “When we first started the program, the wish list was all toys. We would get four items, such as toys or games or art supplies, for each child. Very rarely did we get clothes,” she said.
“And now it’s completely flip-flopped. Every wish list includes a coat or a hat, gloves, underwear, socks, an outfit, shoes. We say there’s a lot of needs and not as many wants.”
Now children can count on seven or eight gifts, and Williams-Hoak and her volunteers make sure that they get a few fun items too, such as toys, games or art supplies.
The yearly event also attracts youth groups and teenagers, such as the Huron men’s basketball team, the Pioneer men and women’s basketball teams, Pioneer women’s golf and Pioneer hockey. The Lincoln athletic department and many Saline sports teams also get involved.
Williams-Hoak said nearly 40 organizations, businesses and individuals donated money or bought gifts this year on the wish lists, and that means many more individuals spent their time and money on the program. “Within each organization, there could be up to 60 or 70 people involved, such as the U-M athletic department,” she said.
In addition the Ann Arbor Police, the Chelsea Police, Saline Police and Washtenaw County Sheriffs also participate by delivering gifts to families. Churches, foster care facilities and hospitals help the foundation identify families in need.
“This has grown into such a tremendous community event,” Williams-Hoak said. “A lot of the organizations that are involved have expressed how special it was for them to go shop, wrap and know that their gifts are going to a child.”