The gift of quality time together is encouraging 200 at-risk families in Southern Oregon to create their own holiday traditions.
“Family traditions kits” are the handiwork of Medford’s Family Nurturing Center, which serves families striving toward reunification under the state’s child welfare system.
The festive packages, delivered this week, contain all the makings for a cozy evening at home spent sipping cocoa, nibbling cookies, reading seasonal stories and decorating for the holidays.
“This is the perfect time to establish some new traditions or revisit some old ones,” says Desirae Anthony, Family Nurturing Center’s development coordinator. “Toys are not the thing that’s going to bring the most happiness to a family.”
The project is a departure for the center, which often sends staff and volunteers out to purchase playthings for participating families. Seeking to limit shopping trips amid the coronavirus pandemic, the center devised a way to focus on positive interactions for its families while spreading holiday cheer early in the month.
The kits cost about $10,000 to assemble, and the center is encouraging donations to cover the expense, says Penny Klabunde, vice president of the center’s board.
Donors stepped in to help with some of the kit items, says Klabunde. St. Mark’s Episcopal Church supplied all the edibles in keeping with its longtime support for the center, namely rent-free occupancy of its headquarters on Oakdale Avenue for more than a decade.
Project Linus, a national organization with local chapters, furnished handmade blankets, while ACCESS provided stuffed animals. Two anonymous donors funded the purchase of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” in English and Spanish editions, as well as “The Snowy Day” for families who don’t celebrate Christmas. A local dentist gave toothbrushes and toothpaste to each member of the center’s families.
Unpacking their red, reusable tote bags, families also will find card games, components to build a gingerbread house, supplies for crafting festive garlands and battery-powered candles illustrating the season’s waning and waxing sunlight. The center’s holiday greeting encourages recipients to use the kits as a starting point for establishing traditions that signify not only family fun, but stability.
“They’re going to look back more on the time they spent together at the holidays than the things they unwrapped,” says Klabunde.
While traditions are ingrained in some families, says Klabunde, the center serves others who have no model for family togetherness or the comfort that predictable activities can bring while navigating life’s ups and downs. Children, in particular, crave the routine and consistency that traditions can impart, according to the center’s staff and board.
As some families have floundered during the pandemic, the center initiated an emergency response program to meet the immediate, tangible needs of 3,000 households across Jackson and Josephine counties, says Anthony. From diapers to activity boxes, from furniture to technology, the center can provide it, she says.
“They can pretty much request anything.”
The center also instituted, since the onset of the pandemic, a support line that lends parents a sympathetic ear. It’s not intended for crisis intervention but rather as an outlet for caregivers to air frustrations and hear reassurance, says Klabunde.
“It’s a really scary time for our vulnerable population,” says Anthony. “There’s definitely a lot less face-to-face contact.”
Compared to 2019, reports of suspected abuse or neglect reports are down 18% and new Child Protective Services cases are down 16%, according to Jake Sunderland of the Oregon Department of Human Services.
But the reduction, Anthony says, is directly tied to children being isolated at home rather than in school and social settings where they would interact with teachers and other mandatory reporters.
“Their teachers don’t have eyes on them,” she says. “Are they being left home alone because their parents have to go to work? It’s really a multilayered issue.”
Oregon Department of Human Services contracts with the center for three programs, says Anthony. Founded in 2006, the center also operates a therapeutic preschool and takes referrals from schools, mental health providers and other community partners, she says. Grants and fundraising contribute to operations, although events that help to support the center have been postponed during the pandemic.
To support the center or fund its family traditions kits, go to familynurturingcenter.org/donate. If you know someone who could benefit from a kit, call 541-779-5242.
SOURCE: Mail Tribune