In an empty Overland Park storefront Monday night, about 40 people gathered to fold paper and tie ribbons around donated gifts as part of Jewish Family Services’ Hanukkah Holiday Project.
The project provides gifts for Jewish clients of the social service organization, young and old. Some are families with small children, and some are elderly people on their own, but all have a financial need for assistance when it comes to holiday gifts.
“Doing something for someone else — it captures the true experience of any giving season,” said volunteer Judie Becker of Leawood.
This year, 350 people from 175 families are receiving holiday assistance, at least 20 more than last year.
“What we do is we provide our clients in need with a wish list, so they are able to put down what they would like,” said Taly Yeyni, director of volunteer engagement for the group.
Families with children might get dolls or games. Adults could receive anything from shoes and blankets to a Crockpot and other household items.
Individuals in the community as well as Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy, the Jewish Community Center’s preschool, local synagogues and other organizations donated gifts and gift cards.
“Hanukkah was so early this year that people weren’t really thinking about Hanukkah until three or four weeks ago, but now we’ve had an overwhelming response, with donations for everybody on our list,” Yeyni said.
Jewish Family Services provided those wanting to help donate items with copies of the wish lists, which makes it easier to match up gifts with what people really need, Yeyni said. The holiday program has been going for more than five years.
All the clients receiving the gifts have met with a Jewish Family Services case manager to have their general needs assessed. Often, they need help with paying for food or rent.
With Hanukkah approaching next week, starting the night before Thanksgiving, all the gifts were collected and ready to wrap Monday night.
Julie Spiegel of Overland Park brought her 6-year-old son, Daniel, to help wrap presents.
“Any opportunity where he can do something other than just getting his own presents is good,” Spiegel said. “I like wrapping presents, too, even if they’re not for me.”
Renee Polsky joined her mother, Ellen, and her father, Larry, as well as a few aunts and cousins, to make the wrapping party a family affair.
“Wrapping is like my therapy,” said Polsky, who lives in Overland Park. “It’s fun seeing what people are going to get and making it more exciting by putting the ribbons and stickers on them.”
Her family isn’t the only one that makes wrapping donated gifts a tradition.
Cherice Gerson of Overland Park usually comes to the wrapping party with her son, Brian. Because Hanukkah is so early this year, he’s still at school at the University of Texas and had to miss out on the custom this year.
For Dawn Minkoff, it’s especially important to help, because her father received gifts from a program like this in a different state after becoming a widower and having to live on his own.
She and her 15-year-old son, Corey, wrapped a stack of gifts for one family, but took care to wrap the gifts in a variety of different papers “to make it feel more festive,” she said.
“I feel like it’s making a difference,” Corey said. “I hope it gives people a better holiday.”