‘Adopt a Family’: The Real Santa of San Antonio

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Hundreds of presents arranged by type at the Family Service Association. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Hundreds of presents arranged by type at the Family Service Association. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

More than 500 families facing a bleak Christmas will now have presents for each member to open this year. The standard toys like boardgames, hoola-hoops, basketballs, bikes, and Barbies are wrapped and ready for delivery, but also included are gifts of shampoo, clothing irons, and kitchen pots and pans.

“You don’t think of these things as Christmas gifts,” said Lany Lyons, an executive assistant at NuStar Energy, who dropped off 12 bags of wrapped presents for a family of seven – a father and six kids. “But it’s those household things we take for granted that can mean the most.”

Lyons’ donation came from the employees in NuStar Energy’s Information Systems department. More departments are following suit, she said.

Companies, individuals, and families across San Antonio have stepped up to “adopt” a low-income family this year – a tradition that the Family Service Association of San Antonio (FSA) began more than 20 years ago.

Presents pile up for families in need at the Family Service Association. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Presents pile up for families in need at the Family Service Association. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

FSA’s Neighborhood Place location in the Westside, a former elementary school at 3014 Rivas St., was bustling with activity Tuesday morning as volunteers, many from Aramark, sorted through donated gifts and matched them with families. Thousands of gifts already were lined up in bags. Thousands more were grouped into piles to supplement the bags just in case one family member came up short on the gift list.

“We want to make sure everyone opens a gift on Christmas,” said FSA Vice President Xochitl Cortez Davis. This includes senior citizens, who began receiving their gifts Tuesday morning from volunteer delivery drivers. “We wouldn’t be able to do it without the support of the community.”

Family Service Association Vice President Xochitl Cortez Davis poses for a photo with FSA staff member Luis Ramon. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Family Service Association Vice President Xochitl Cortez Davis poses for a photo with FSA staff member Luis Ramon. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Most of the adopted families are FSA clients. The social service nonprofit has year-round programs and resources including child care referrals, personal and financial counseling, technology education for teens, housing and employment assistance, and much more. The Adopt a Family program is the most visible of their programming perhaps because it’s direct family-to-family contact and the concept is straight-forward and heart-warming for all involved.

FSA clients sign up and make a list of needs and wants (within reason, of course), including the sex and age of each family member. “Adopters” sign up and buy as much as they can on that list. Usually all of it. They wrap each gift and can drop off the typically huge bags at the Neighborhood Place as early as October. Adopted families have from Dec. 10 to Dec. 24 to pick up their gifts, which comes with at least one large box of food from the Redeemer Presbyterian Church.

Since its opening in 2007, The Neighborhood Place has hosted more than 300,000 people between FSA services and 12 on-site partners, Davis said, including Head Start, KidShare, and Dance Therapy. FSA and organizations at The Neighborhood Place also connect clients to an even larger network of off-site partners. The expansive center has become a one-stop shop for anyone in the community seeking shelter, food, counseling.

Down the hall from the old cafeteria filled with toys is the FSA’s Financial Empowerment Center where Director Kim Arispe oversees four counselors that offer free, one-on-one sessions with anyone who walks in the door – who has preferably called ahead to make an appointment.

“These are not classes,” she said. “We’re offering personalized advice.”

Financial Empowerment Center Director Kim Arispe poses for a photo at Family Service Assocation. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Financial Empowerment Center Director Kim Arispe poses for a photo at Family Service Assocation. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

The center focuses on saving, banking, debt reduction, and credit score improvement, but can help with almost any financial predicament. Refinancing a home loan, going through bankruptcy, and dealing with predatory payday loan companies are also common, Arispe said. Since the payday loan ordinance was passed last year, she hasn’t seen a decrease in those predatory practices.

“There are too many hoops for people to jump through to report it … it’s easier just to come here and deal with it,” she said.

During the two years the center has been operating, its staff has helped their clients reduce $1.7 million in combined debt and save $217,000, Arispe said.

In a separate building behind the main campus, the Teen Tech Center is empty and calm in before the center opens from 3:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. LED light projects lay unfinished on the table. At least a dozen computers await kids aged 11-18 to work and experiment with state-of the art software. Other tools include a mini music recording studio, video and still cameras, a green screen, and more.

The center is one of five in the country sponsored by Best Buy and is linked up with hundreds of other centers through the Intel Computer Clubhouse Network.

The Teen Tech Center is free and open to the public, all kids have to do is have their parents fill out a permission and information packet. Voila: free, educational after school programming.

But I digress – something that’s easy to do when writing about FSA. It’s hard to not mention all the important programming they do every day. The holiday season gives us all a good reason to take note.

*Featured/top image: Hundreds of presents arranged by type at the Family Service Association. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

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4 thoughts on “‘Adopt a Family’: The Real Santa of San Antonio

  1. Van you adopt us then pleade

    ..I literally.. I feel like Job from the bible..in the past year I’ve lost so much. Ive had a heart attack I lost my left eye and am now totally blind in left eye..and to make things even worse im disfigured due to it. Ive been depressed ever since can’t seem to pull myself up out of this. I was in hospital 2 months.almost died at times really wanted to die and all from an spider bite on my cheek one night…qithin 24 hours of bite i had lost my vision in that eyye and changed the whole dynamic of my face. i feel LIKE SUCH A FREAK OF NATURE NOW…DONT LIKE GOING OUT IN PUNLIC VERY MUCH AS I AM SO EMBARRASED….So DEPRESSION AND 50 lbs later i realize i need ti puck myself and my family up…
    >
    > l have a son 13 years old is lashing out at school and my husband works seven days a week as hard as he works his working is barely keeping us a float. My son has had to quit sports because of all my medical bills and medicined… and now here is Christmas in two weeks and I can’t even fill a stocking for my son or husband…literally I have $5 In my pocket and cry knowing if someone doesn’t have some compassion my family will have nothing this year….yoy can’t imagine the pain of haungva war going on within yourself then having your child look at you with nothing but sadness yet acceptance to the circumstances. So sad.
    > I’ve written, ive called, ive begged at least 100 ministries to please adopt us for the Christmas with some food, maybe clothing and a gift for my child who has already had to lose alot this year…and each time either I was already to late they. Said or the they door just closed their door in my face. WHY WON’T SOMEONE HELP ME NOW THAT MY FAMILY NEEDS IT. What about my family now God. Ive known God since i was a child….I’VE ALWAYS BEEN ONE TO GIVE AND NOW THAT my family is IN need for just ONE CHRISTMAS I CAN’T EVEN GET A CRUMB thrown to me FROM A CHARITY or church. IT HAS BEEN SO HARD THIS YEAR TO TRUST IN God when every bone in my body wants to give up. Bills are stacking up it’s like I am drowning with no one helping pull me out.
    >
    > Please Lord, please Church please here my cries…I am down on my knees with tears in my one eye. Please can someone out there help my family…can anyone hear me. IS THERE ANYONE OUT THERE…Please….youR CHURCH is my last hope…. my family deserves a nice Christmas we have been through so much and I have nothing to give my family for all they’ve done this year how do u explain that to them…..i give up. I just need help for one christmas……
    >
    > I know this is a shot in the dark but I’m begging for help…no food for Christmas day…. I need to believe in the meaning of Christmas because truly I have given up. I leave it in your hands …. Be still and know that I am God…… I feel so far away from him…… Please please please .
    >
    > Thanks
    > Rhonda Meiners
    > 234 Rockwood Court
    > San Antonio Tx 78210
    > 210.815.4642

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