COVID-19 puts the brakes on Adopt-A-Family

COVID-19 puts the brakes on Adopt-A-Family

WOONSOCKET – It’s still more than three months from Dec. 25, but this year’s celebrations are already starting to look a little like “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

On Tuesday, the Woonsocket Adopt-A-Family Board of Directors announced they’re canceling their 2020 program due to COVID-19. Laura Hunt, incoming president of the board, said they were forced to re-examine the program given the logistical, financial and safety challenges of the pandemic.

“We gave a great deal of thought as to how we could alter the program and still provide some assistance to the neediest children in Woonsocket amid the ever-changing restrictions concerning the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said. “Unfortunately, we could not find a way around the countless obstacles we would encounter.”

Hunt said those challenges came on multiple fronts. The program, she said, typically helps about 1,800 to 2,000 children each year with donations from more than 600 donors. All of those presents are kept in the Elks Hall, which the organization uses as a home base during distribution week. Donors drop their presents directly at the hall, while about 900 families are expected to come and pick them up.

“There’s no way to social distance,” she said. “The bags are handled by dozens of people. We weren’t even sure that the Elks would let us have the event because it’s so crowded at times. We knew we couldn’t have our distribution week.”

In addition, the organization relies on partnerships with three local companies – CVS, Fidelity and Deloitte – whose employees provide a large number of the gifts. With those employees now working from home, Hunt said she wasn’t sure how the companies would support the program.

“I just don’t see how they can do that if everybody’s working from home,” she said. “Every avenue we tried to chase down we came up with no way to keep the program going. We tried.”

Woonsocket Adopt-A-Family is a private charity that was founded in 1981 to provide presents to the city’s children. The organization is run entirely by volunteers, many of whom essentially take on a second job coordinating donations through the fall, according to Hunt.

Hunt said they hoped to make the decision early so that families can plan ahead.

“Those kids are obviously at the top of our minds, so canceling was not an easy decision,” she said.

The organization, she said, plans to bring back the program in 2021. In the meantime, she said, they have enough monetary donations to help pay their expenses over the next year. The organization rents a small office in the Cornerstone Building on Social Street.

“We’re 100 percent certain that if the state is open, we’ll be back next year,” she said.

While the Adopt-A-Family program is on hold, some other organizations are still running donation programs for the Christmas season. Elite ACE will hold its Operation Christmas for Teens beginning in November. Family registrations for that program, which provides gifts for teens ages 12 to 17, opened on Sept. 1.