Singers and Santas. Turkeys and toys. Coats and canned goods. A computer for merry measure.
Throughout the Washington area, organizations that help the less fortunate are making lists and checking them twice, and those are just some of the items and assistance they need to make the holidays happier for their clients.
If you can sing and have a few musically inclined friends, the Hospital for Sick Children in Northeast Washington has a volunteer opportunity for you. The hospital, a pediatric rehabilitation and transitional care facility for patients from infancy to age 21, is looking for people to sing Christmas carols to the patients.
Karen Kornegay, the hospital's director of volunteer services, says the singers often are groups of co-workers, choir members or high school students.
"We're always looking for volunteers who want to come in and do that during the holidays," she said. "The kids enjoy it, and the visits make the day joyous for them."
The hospital also needs donations of gifts (interested people should call 202-635-6190 for a wish list) and volunteers to help Santa pass out the gifts to patients on Christmas morning, Kornegay said. A volunteer is even needed to play Santa, but he or she won't have to bring the clothes--the hospital furnishes the suit.
Then there's the New Year's celebration. The hospital is looking for people "to come and read to the children, play with them, spend some time with them," Kornegay said. And volunteers are welcome to "come in and give a party, a story hour, act out a play, do some activity with the children during the holidays," she said.
In Northern Virginia, the Arlington-Alexandria Coalition for the Homeless (703-525-7177) is hard at work collecting food and gifts and planning Christmas dinner for people who live in the Clarendon shelter or in transitional housing in the county and city. Some of the food is coming from food drives the last two weekends in Alexandria, and Paul Heimer, the coalition's director of community resources, said additional donations of frozen turkeys or supermarket gift certificates would be particularly helpful. He is also on the lookout for a good cook.
"We need someone to prepare Christmas dinner for the homeless shelter," he said. The meal would be for about 35 adults, though some of those attending will be children. "I need a good cook who wants to make a meal, or someone with a deep pocket who wants to cater it. I'm not choosy."
Then there's the matter of gifts.
"We get wish lists from clients," Heimer said, listing "everybody in the family by name, age, gender, clothing size and items wished for. We try to find individuals or groups that will fulfill holiday wishes. We mail out or fax lists to people who want to help, and it's up to them to be Santa Claus, go shopping and get the gifts."
Once the gifts are purchased, they of course must be wrapped, and the coalition will have a "wrap party" Dec. 21 to 23. Volunteers also are needed to deliver gifts and food baskets to people in the shelter or in assisted housing, which could be any apartment in Arlington or Alexandria.
"We provide them with rental assistance," Heimer said. "They could be your neighbor or mine."
In suburban Maryland, the Boys and Girls Homes (301-587-9750) need help making the holidays happy for youths in residential and foster programs. Kathryn Ottman, of the resource development office, said the holidays are "especially tough" for the up to 140 abused and neglected children the program serves.
The private, nonprofit organization runs 16 programs in the state, including shelters in Montgomery, Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties. The diverse youths have diverse problems, Ottman said.
"Their parents may be around but may be drug abusers or incarcerated or may have abused the children," Ottman said. "Or the children got so out of hand that their parents could not handle them anymore."
For the holidays, "we rely on the generosity of people in the community, businesses, churches, civic groups and private individuals to provide holiday gifts and sometimes meals," Ottman said. For example, Lockheed Martin Corp. gives turkeys for Thanksgiving each year.
"We can use turkeys, canned goods, anything any normal family would have for the holidays," Ottman said. "We're just like any other family, except we're very large."
The youngsters make gift lists, and the homes would be happy to hear from people who would like to adopt a child or a program for the holidays. Ottman asks that the gifts be unwrapped because the homes need to make sure they are appropriate.
She said the children's gift lists are accommodated "in an equitable way, to make sure each list is filled as much as possible. If we get duplicates, we divide them up with kids who didn't get as much as others."
Each of the residential homes has its own holiday celebration, Ottman said, and sometimes a company will sponsor a party. Because the population is so diverse, "it's difficult to have Santa Claus," Ottman said. "We have some Jewish children, and the large majority are black and may celebrate Kwanzaa. Some homes have Christmas trees and menorahs."
"Last year was a very good year," Ottman said, noting that some of the children got new bicycles for Christmas. "But the need is still great, and the more the merrier."