Posted by Stu Dearnley (Summit County) EmailStuDearnley@gmail.com
Summit County Rotary Engagement! 2020 Adopt an Angel
 
The 2020 Adopt an Angel program was a huge success by any standard. Great work, team. I thank each and every one of you for your involvement. Even if your role was staying home owing to our rigorous Covid protocols I put in place, the role you served was vital. 
 
I’m going to omit names for fear of missing anyone. This was a club effort, so WE’s the only pronoun we need.
 
This experience was profoundly moving for me. Parents were blessing us through tear-streaked eyes. Volunteers that I’d run ragged were crying in appreciation of this appreciation.  I think there’s no better way to share my gratitude than to let you in on moments that struck me as meaningful throughout the journey, lessons learned, and improvements that will be enacted when we go even bigger in 2021.
 
Since most volunteers didn’t see all 3 days, I’ll start with a rundown of how it worked. Registration was handled entirely by FIRC. They have a much better idea of the community’s needs than we do, and they doled out the slots (targeting 500 kids) to agencies that handle needy families such as Advocates for Victims of Assault, Early Intervention, Head Start, and others. We were likeminded in targeting the families that need the most help. The final intake was 567, and that number didn’t scare me at all. It was like trying to contemplate the national debt—what’s another trillion dollars?
 
Friday and Saturday we unloaded our storage facilities into trucks generously provided by iFurnish. We filled two furniture moving trucks. That’s a lot of toys.
 
Sunday those trucks were emptied onto the stage, then distributed around the room by age/gender. That took until about 11:30. Meanwhile, we printed labels for each bag. We counted how many batteries were needed for each toy, then included twice that number. We inflated every ball so it’s ready for game time. There were hundreds of balls. We inventoried the coats. This was a huge undertaking made huger by managerial inefficiencies. That system and intake shortcomings were the two biggest lessons learned and why next year will be a breeze. 
 
Sunday afternoon into Monday morning were spent “shopping.” We took bags and filled them with clothes and toys. Every child got a coat and at least one “big” toy, such as something from their wish list, headphones, a skateboard, a soccer ball, or something we felt had some Wow-effect for under the tree on Christmas morning. Other items that we distributed by the hundreds include thermal undies, PJs, art supplies, stuffies, Uno cards, board games, books, and dominoes. And more. Way more. A literal truckload more. Volunteers from years past estimated that each child received twice as much as they last year, and we served 180 more children in the midst of a pandemic year.
 
Monday afternoon we arranged for easy pick-up, pulling out deliveries of which I’d guess there were 65+/-. Tuesdays we ran deliveries and distributed the bags. This was a great day. Parents pulled their cars in and we confirmed their identity and loaded their trunks. It was smooth. There was no wrapping this year, and families were sent with a tube of wrapping paper, most of which was collected by the high school’s Spanish Honor Society.
 
A word on coats: by far the biggest challenge to this year’s event was intaking the sizes. This process provided many insights and opportunities for individual heroics. A Rotarian on the East Coast stood patiently by until one in the morning awaiting instructions on our group text message. Three people spent days calling families and inputting coat sizes. Ages seemed to have little bearing on sizes requested. While at first I thought it an abuse of the system to give a two-year old a 6T jacket, I have since come full circle on the matter.  Next year, we will ask what size coat the family wants. Not only does this let them upsize if they already have a winter coat, but it gives the parents the chance to pick up a coat for themselves. When money’s tight, most parents see to their children’s needs first. A coat’s a basic need here in Summit County, and while the posters and website pull heartstrings by saying “give toys to children” the bigger picture is helping families. We’re taking away an expense so they can afford other expenses. This might go without saying, but it took me a while to see that as clearly as I do now.
 
I missed a lot of the feel-good moments because I was managing and not loading bags into the cars of grateful people. But I loaded some bags and got some warm fuzzies. Here are a few:
 
When I was “shopping” which is the term we used for packing a child’s goody bag, what he said he wanted for Christmas was “fast cars.” It was a four-year-old’s answer when asked what he’d like. That was a fun bag to fill. Not only does he have fast cars now, but this level of detail inspired the intake question that will get us closer to the mark in future years. 
 
Another child, aged 9, did not know what he wanted for Christmas. Gloria asked what kind of toys he liked to play with and he couldn’t say because he didn’t have any toys. True story. The kid has toys now.
 
There was a lot of crying. Delivery drivers kept coming back speaking to the gratitude or texting or calling with their hearts overflowing. I got one such call from a parent who’d gotten my number from our reminder text. She could barely speak, yet that I asked that she repeat herself for “my manager” and ran over the phone to AG. It was a powerful moment. This woman’s gratitude was immeasurable. Her life was changed. Giving parents the ability to make their children happy is every bit as wonderful as giving children toys.
 
FirstBank got toys dropped off after our collection time had ended and swung by the pavilion with a handful of toys in the middle of give-away Tuesday. Those toys precisely matched the needs of one of very few missing packages. Within five minutes of arrival, they’d been strapped with batteries, loaded with a coat and a soccer ball and put in the trunk of a car. It was a true Christmas miracle.
 
One drop-off I made in person was to the family with 5 children who were being evicted on the 14th—one day before our giveaway. They did quite well by us, including getting a (used) Nintendo Wii. It was the only used item we distributed, and I confirmed it was of interest on the phone before bringing it by. What stood out about this delivery was that I’d stuffed everything into red Santa-sacks—the kind of thing that would be counted as clutter in my house. The dad asked if I needed the sack back and I said it was his to keep. He was delighted. He needed laundry bags, and this was a huge bonus for him!
 
The fundraising went better can be expected. In fact, we were unable to spend all of the money we received. The toy collection ended last Friday, yet we’ve received $1,300 since then, $750 after the toys were already out the door. This year’s total COGIVES haul smashed previous records, bringing in 66% more money than last year. $630K compared to 2019’s $387. There are 49 nonprofits competing for those donations, yet we brought in roughly $60,000, about a tenth of all monies given, plus literal truckloads of clothes and toys. And our maiden voyage was during a Covid year, taking in almost 50% more kids than the program did last year (387). We had roughly 130 leftover coats that we’ve donated to FIRC, and what I’m guessing to be $15,000 unspent. This money is going back into the community, and though I’m not the person who makes financial decisions for the club, I am the person who raised those funds and plan to use my sizeable lobbying power to support foodbanks. I will be sure to update you on final numbers and where it’s going after all the beans are counted in a week or so. Donating to a food back increases our reach beyond our 259 families. There is need far beyond our 259 families, and money saved by us can be spent on toys, or electricity bills as needed. If we’d set out to raise money for a food bank, $15,000 would have been a proud haul, and that’s our surplus after providing toys and coats to 567 children. 
 
We all put our health in jeopardy because we knew the risk worth taking. Think of the joy you helped cause on Christmas morning. Think of our 567 kids enjoying playgrounds in coats we provided this January. I’m so proud of us all that I can barely take it. Thank you for being a part. Outside of parenthood, this has been the most rewarding experience of my life.
 
A huge thanks to Alpine and FirstBank for their support, manpower, and enthusiasm. Likewise for the Senior Center. They came in early and enthusiastically, taking pressure off storing things when that was the top priority. Their volunteers were capable and as punctual as you’d expect from bankers!
 
A huge thank you to Walmart and Columbia for providing huge discounts so we had more money to spend. 567 +130= 697 coats. Good coats. Warm coats. Right here in Summit!
 
There are two call-outs that need to be made. Many really, but two that I’ll make now. Antoinette was a gift-wrapper in years past. She contacted me in early November asking how to help, and I was delighted to pass off the role of stringing ornaments. When that was done she asked for a new assignment. Then another and another. I still don’t think she appreciates how big a role she played. She oversaw operations so I could troubleshoot. She ensured the volunteers would be in position for Project B when project A was completed. Anyone who stepped inside the Pavilion can tell you there was no lollygagging, nor time for misplaced volunteer energy. In fact, there wasn’t time to explain the big picture. The morning shift would leave not knowing what the afternoon shift was going to do. Only AG and I saw the big picture. There were times when I’d walk through the busy beehive singing and dancing. That meant things were going well. When the idea of taking on AAA came up, my exact words were, “I’ll lead if Rotary is behind it.” On Sunday, AG asked how we were going to pull it off. There was twice as much stuff as the year before “and you don’t know what you’re going to get with volunteers.” I said that Rotarians know how to work. Her disbelief on Sunday night was one of the highlights of this experience for me. The thank you she gave me before leaving on Tuesday is the single biggest highlight. I worked her to the bone, and I don’t think I’ve ever been thanked for sincerely, and she did it in three words. There is no doubt in my mind that AG and I will be friends for life. From the bottom of my heart, thank you AG!
 
The other call out is for my very best friend, Gloria. For all of Tuesday’s smoothness, troubles did arise. Bags appeared to be missing as people who asked for delivery came to pick up. Two bags were actually AWOL. People came through who weren’t registered. Coats were the wrong size or gender…you get the idea. If you’ve seen Pulp Fiction, Gloria was THE WOLF.  I’d hear a number being called by seven people. That number was code for “where is this family’s stuff?!?!” and as soon as Gloria was on the job I knew I’d not have to worry about that number again. She also spent 30ish hours intaking coat sizes and originated the innovation of asking people if they want to size up. This would not have worked without you, love. It’s especially worth mentioning because Gloria didn’t raise her hand to run this project. I did without asking her. Without fail, Gloria sees a need in the community (and in our household) and rushes to fill it without provocation. Meanwhile, our house is a pigsty, and our teenager is as tired as we are after full-time parenting a 5 year-old for three days, and I bet I have 3 more days worth of receipt gathering, deliveries to Gloria’s families, and thank you writing ahead of me. I couldn’t be luckier to have you, Gloria! A humongous thank you from me, the Rotary Club, and the community you serve so tirelessly.
 
Because it’s fun to say, I’ll say it again:
567 children
259 families
130ish surplus coats that will soon be distributed by the FIRC
A huge chunk of leftover money going to local food banks. 
All executed at no expense to the Rotary club.
Any one of these would have been a huge success, and we turned it all around in 2 months. Remarkable!
 
Next year, we’ll have four times the volunteers. We’ll probably have less money to work with, and we’ll definitely intake more families because of course we will. Thank you all so very much for letting me bark orders. I took each and every one of your contributions as if it was a personal favor to me, and I feel I can never repay the debt. Thank you for giving me the confidence to take this on. Thank you for taking instruction well and doing things right the first time. Thank you for feeding me when I was too busy to realize I was hungry (that’s not a metaphor). Thank you for bringing joy to the parents who’ll bring joy to their children with no knowledge of any of our efforts. “Helping people you’ll never meet,” is one of the tenants of the club, and it’s also a hell of a feeling.
 
I know I’m overlooking people or sending this to organizations of which many people took part. Please pass the note along and forgive my oversights!
 
Thank you one and all. I have not done any shopping for my family, yet this is certain to be my Merriest Christmas ever. Please take a minute and let the warm fuzzies wash over you on Christmas morning. That was an amazing thing we did.
 
Very very sincerely, Stu with the Santa hat