For Galloway Township resident Alfred Lloyd, 57, the day begins at 5:20 a.m. to aid in the care of his five grandchildren, three of whom have been diagnosed with autism, including his 17-year old granddaughter. He begins his morning by waking her for school.
Lloyd said his granddaughter has received little attention from autism foundations because she is older. But, due to the generosity of a local “Santa Claus,” during the holiday season that is certainly not the case.
“Santa Claus” for Lloyd’s granddaughter in reality, is a community resident who has been matched with her family through The Arc of Atlantic County Holiday Partners Program.
The Holiday Partners program finds families in difficult economic situations or having to care for family member with an intellectual or developmental disability, and matches them with donation volunteers. The program‘s donations come in two shifts, one for Thanksgiving and a second for Christmas.
“It’s like looking at an 8-year-old getting a gift when she opens her present’s at Christmas time, she just lights up, she still believes in Santa Claus you know,” said Lloyd of his granddaughter. “Arc is the only one that helps with her, everybody else … they just give to the little ones.”
During the Christmas season participating families will dream up holiday gift lists that will be given to volunteers who will essentially act as that family’s Santa Claus, according to the program’s organizer Rebecca Reed, director of ARC’s clinical services,
For the Thanksgiving segment of their program, donations consisted of food baskets or gift cards to grocery stores, she explained.
By early November, Reed said that her office is already bursting with gifts and donations, only to get more crowded as the month continues.
“Imagine presents for 40 families and how much space that takes up,” she said.
Reed said that currently about 40 families will be receiving Thanksgiving donations. Following the distribution of those baskets, full focus will turn toward Christmas preparations.
Private individuals and businesses can be donors for the program, Reed explained. This year, ShopRite has taken on the vast majority of the ARC’s children through their holiday tree for kids program.
Nancy Riess, program founder and CGO coordinator for the ShopRite in Galloway, said that this year, ARC’s children will be among 2,000 others who will have their wish lists attached to home-made holiday pins and hung on trees erected in eight local Shoprite stores. Shoppers can then pluck a wish list from the tree if they want to make a donation.
“I mean its incredible they don’t buy just one thing for a gift,” Reiss said of ShopRite donators. “ We have had laptops, guitars, good gifts and tons of bicycles, its amazing.”
For Lloyd and his family, this program has been, in his words, “amazing.”
“Whatever they can do to help us out, every little bit helps,” Lloyd said warmly.