Incredibly, Halloween and with it, the last vestiges of autumn are already slipping away. Foliage is beginning to thin, revealing the stark trunks and branches which will soon contribute to the severe beauty of frigid winter months. Thoughts turn naturally towards the holiday season fast approaching. For many, these are warm thoughts, filled with family and plenty. For others, however, these thoughts are anxious, wondering if they will be able to afford warm coats and boots, let alone presents, for their children. Jamie Buss and Colleen Bedford of Making Spirits Bright are doing all they can to make sure these families have their needs met—and a little something extra—this Christmas.
It all started with a dream of bringing Christmas to families in need in Webster and Rochester. Making Spirits Bright, the gift-giving organization birthed from this dream in March 2014, took its inspiration from a friend and cofounder, said Making Spirits Bright Founder, Jamie Buss. “My friend read a news story about this gentleman who threw a Christmas party every year at a local women’s shelter in Syracuse and gave gifts to the women and their children. It inspired us.”
Jamie and her friend took this idea, and adapted and embellished it, making it their own. “It snowballed from there. The first year, we helped 13 families, then 41, 51, 52 and this past year, we helped 47 families.” This year, Making Spirits Bright has received requests from families they have reached in the past. “We do not repeat with families unless their circumstances have changed drastically,” explained Buss. “This year, we have further expanded into Rochester. We try to reach as many families as we can, and we have worked hard to provide a resource list to those we cannot help again this year.”
Participating families, which are selected with the help of social workers, school administrators and mental health staff and others, are equally divided between the Webster and Rochester areas. Each family member requests four items they need and three items they want. Need items include such things as warm winter clothing like hats, coats, boots, hygiene products, toilet paper, toothpaste, bedding, necessities for the home. Want items are items like toys, watches, perfume, robes, small appliances. “A lot of our families reach out for furniture,” said Buss. “One of our families had lived with no furniture in their home for the past three years, so we reached out to the community for gently used furniture, including beds, chairs, a table, a sofa. They received furniture that Christmas. Our community is so generous.”
“Businesses and families as well as community members adopt families and fill their Christmas lists. 30 families were adopted outright!” exclaimed Buss. “The remaining families and individuals are placed onto our Community List so that people can adopt a family, a person or purchase an individual item.” Buss explains that, in the past, all of the gifts were dropped off at her own home and the home of another group member to be wrapped at a community wrapping party. This year due to COVID-19, volunteers will wrap the gifts they pick up for each family.
In 2018, they wrapped an astounding 1,600-1,700 gifts; in 2019, even more. “We brought them to one of the local schools, invited the community to join in and wrapped them in the span of two hours,” said Buss, stating that the gifts are then delivered the following week. “Our Making Spirits Bright Program has grown every year. For six years, we have operated out of our homes, which we outgrew long ago, but this year, the DiMarco Group generously donated office space to us in Baytown Plaza. All of the donations will now be brought there.”
Making Spirits Bright is expecting to help at least 44 families this year. “It is amazing that, during a global pandemic, we are able to support that many,” shared Buss. “When you look at the community outreach and the donations from those in the Greater Rochster Area, the response has just been tremendous. We have a phenomenal group of people who help us and support us year in and year out.
COVID-19 has been particularly hard on families this year. A number of families reached out to us this year in need of cleaning products, toiletries, food,” Buss explained. “For the first time, we held a spring donation drive to help these families, and we added many more need items to the form we ask our families to fill out: things like food, masks, cleaning supplies. About 75% of families have checked those boxes which is a far higher percentage than we have seen in past years. We have also established a list of resources for these families to help with things we are not able to provide. That was important to us.”
To meet this new surge of needs, Buss and Bedford turn to area communities. “If people are interested in adopting a family, they can certainly reach out; we can always use more,” said Buss. “This year, we are really looking for groups to donate toiletries, cleaning supplies, feminine hygiene products, and more. If anyone is willing to run such a collection drive on our behalf, we will certainly make sure it goes to those families which need it most.”
Want to help or know of a family in need? Contact Making Spirits Bright at email@example.com.