The Gift of Giving

Marci McCalley (center) and her daughters, Melissa and Alison, help wrap gifts with friends and family for the city’s Holiday Giving Program.

This year for her birthday, Lakelands resident Marci McCalley decided it would be better to give than to receive, and she invited all her friends and family to join her.

McCalley sent out a request in November, titled “40 for my 40th,” asking for help sponsoring 40 children in Gaithersburg as part of the city’s Holiday Giving Program.

Ultimately, not only did she meet her goal, she exceeded it. So many people wanted to participate that McCalley, her friends and family members ended up sponsoring 60 kids.

Gaithersburg’s Holiday Giving Program is a collaboration among the city, area congregations, nonprofit organizations, businesses and individuals and is coordinated countywide. All referrals to the program come from area county and nonprofit social workers and Montgomery County Public Schools counselors. The city of Gaithersburg then receives any referrals that come in for city residents.

Sponsors are given the name, age and gender of a child, along with a clothing size. General guidelines are to purchase a minimum of three to four clothing items and two to three toys.

The McCalley family has participated in the program for seven years, always sponsoring at least two children.

“We usually ask to sponsor kids who are my girls’ ages, and then if they have siblings, we’ll sponsor them, too,” said McCalley. “Having a name, age and size helps you realize there is a real person out there that you are helping.”

McCalley and her husband, Patrick, incorporate the program into their Hanukkah celebration with their children, Melissa, 8, and Alison, 6.

“One night during Hanukkah, we don’t get presents, we only give presents to [Holiday Giving Program] kids,” said Melissa. “We like to give to kids who don’t get presents on Christmas.”

On Dec. 9, McCalley held a “wrapping party.” Both kids and adults attended, decorating bags and wrapping presents, and at the end of the evening, the McCalley’s living room was piled high with bags ready for delivery.

Sam Neal, 9, came with his mom and two younger sisters. “It’s fun that you get to pick presents for other kids, and they probably will enjoy playing with them,” he said. “They deserve it.”

“It’s nice to give other people things they don’t have so they can enjoy Christmas,” said Carter France, 8, who also attended with his mom.

This year the Gaithersburg program served close to 2,000 city children from 990 city families in several ways. Children in about 300 of these families were sponsored by area congregations, individuals, and groups like McCalley’s. About 600 families were invited to a large distribution of toys, Target gift cards and family fun stockings, and many singles and seniors were mailed gift cards.

Isabella Artino, 8, enjoyed being able to give presents to others. “To me it feels like it makes the holiday brighter,” said Isabella. “It makes the holiday special.”

McCalley said almost 50 families participated in her group effort. And while organizing the project turned out to be a lot of work, she said she can’t describe how great the feeling was when she took the contributions in to the drop-off locations.

“It was so amazing to trek in to the parent resource center with two car loads, and the look on the face of the woman in charge was priceless. She was so touched, and when she found out this is what I did for my birthday she was speechless,” she said. “It made all of the craziness of making this happen worth every second. It was the best birthday gift ever!”

Collection will begin for the 17th Annual City of Gaithersburg Holiday Giving Program in September 2011 for Thanksgiving and the December holidays. For more information, contact Gaithersburg Community Services Program Manager Maureen Herndon at 301.258.6395.