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Smith makes sure San Mar kids have gifts

December 21, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

BOONSBORO -- Each year, dozens of individuals and families volunteer to make wishes come true by purchasing and wrapping holiday gifts for the children and teens in the foster-care program and group homes operated by San Mar.

Their generosity floods the homes with piles of brightly wrapped packages chosen for each child, but it also requires coordination to match children with donors, keep track of what has come in and make sure the gifts are distributed evenly.

That's where Kristy Smith comes in.

After years of participating in San Mar's gift effort as a donor, Smith noticed that coordinating the gifts was requiring a large commitment from San Mar's busy staff.

San Mar, along Md. 66 near Boonsboro, runs a foster-care program for boys and girls, as well as therapeutic, transitional and shelter homes for teenage girls who cannot live with their natural families for a variety of reasons.

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"I asked last year, I said, 'If next year you need some help with the (gift) organization, I'd be happy to be involved,' and they remembered that," Smith said.

This year, Smith took charge of the gift coordination, a process that started in October.

First, Smith drafted a letter to send to donors from previous years asking if they wanted to participate this year.

Smith also sent wish list forms to foster families for the foster children to fill out, and San Mar staff handed forms to the girls in its group homes. The youngsters can list three items in the $10 to $15 price range and three items in the $15 to $30 price range, she said. The forms also ask about hobbies and preferences, such as favorite colors and types of music.

Smith passed those wish lists on to the volunteers, keeping a record of who was sponsoring each child and when the gifts were due.

"I staggered the deadline so that on one day we didn't get completely filled up and bowled over," she said.

Gifts were purchased for about 60 children this year, and Smith said she picked up many of the gifts from the donors.

"Once or twice a week, I'm out driving Santa's sleigh around picking up gifts from various individuals or organizations and getting them back here, and then when they're all in, I hope to be helpful in sorting out the general gifts and making sure we have a good balance of gifts for everyone in each home," she said earlier this month.

Some of the donors, including companies, contribute general gifts that can be used to fill in where needed, she said.

Some of the gifts were given out at a party Dec. 12, while others are saved for Christmas morning, she said.

Smith guessed she spent about 20 hours on the process.

Smith works as a program manager for the Community Foundation of Washington County, but that job is only 25 to 30 hours a week and leaves time for volunteering, Smith said.

She said she was glad to find a way to give of her time.

"And I have a talent for organization," Smith said. "My friends think I'm bossy, and I think sometimes it takes that type of person to get things done."

She said she has enjoyed coordinating the gifts, particularly because of the people she has met, and hopes to do it for years to come.

"I'm just grateful to the people who are willing to adopt and wrap," Smith said. "It really makes it easy. People are so generous."

Some families ask to adopt more than one child, and many purchase every item on the child's list or spend more than the recommended price limit, she said.

"We encourage them not to, and it's not something we push, but they like to do it," she said.

Anyone interested in signing up to donate gifts to San Mar in the future may call 301-733-9067 and ask to be placed on the e-mail or mailing list for next year, she said.

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