$15,000 in gift cards raised in annual Thanksgiving Outreach

With Thanksgiving comes the beginning of the holiday season and the season of giving. To kick off their three annual outreach programs, Campus Ministry begins Thanksgiving Outreach on Nov. 1 each year. Thanksgiving Outreach has been a fundraising program of Campus Ministry for the past 30+ years and spans from Nov. 1 to Nov. 17, the final Wednesday before students leave campus for Thanksgiving break.

Each year, Campus Ministry collects donations of groceries and grocery store gift cards and gives them to agencies who distribute the donations to families in need throughout the community around the time of Thanksgiving.

Every donated good starts its journey through the Thanksgiving Outreach program with students, parents and staff purchasing groceries or grocery store gift cards and dropping them off to student volunteers on Heisman Lane or at the Campus Ministry office on campus before the start of the school day.

Campus Ministry commissioner and senior Emma Middlemas volunteers her time before school to collect the donations. Middlemas has been a member of the Campus Ministry Commission for the past four years and was originally inspired to join to further explore her faith and have a greater role in the school and in her community

“I am a faithful person,” Middlemas said. “I was really involved with both of my churches and I just wanted to get more involved with school so I decided to [join Campus Ministry] to find my place of belonging and be with people who would support me in my journey.”

As one of the commissioners, Middlemas shares in the responsibility for leading outreaches and programs such as Thanksgiving Outreach organized by Campus Ministry throughout the year.

“It’s important because you have a chance to give back to your community,” Middlemas said. “It’s so easy to just bring in food with you to school; we all go through Heisman to get to classes and we all go to the grocery store, so we can just pick up a couple extra items and bring it in. It makes so much difference and everyone is very thankful for it.”

Once the donated goods have been received, club members, commissioners and Director of Christian Service and Outreach Stephanie Hopkins sort the donations by food group in the Campus Ministry office on campus.

Hopkins has led and organized the Thanksgiving Outreach program for the past 17 years, over which she has seen the service event grow substantially in size and impact.

“We started collecting and [donating the food] to a few parishes in Santa Ana,” Hopkins said. “Then it expanded to some of the agencies that we work with that serve the area and it’s become just bigger and bigger.”

Today, the impact of the Thanksgiving Outreach program extends far beyond Santa Ana and into the surrounding cities and communities. San Antonio de Padua Church is located in Anaheim Hills and Serving People in Need (SPIN) and Share Our Selves (SOS) are both based in Costa Mesa.

The organizations which the donations are sent to differ each year due to the fact that Hopkins and Campus Ministry decide which organizations to partner with based on their supply, demand, and predicted influence in the community.

“[We donate to] the [organizations] who can make the biggest impact and the ones who want it,” Hopkins said. “They really count on us and they’re really looking forward to it.”

The reach of Thanksgiving Outreach has not only grown in area, but also in the number of donations and in turn the number of families benefited. This likely was caused by Campus Ministry Club making donations worth service hours for students.

“Last year [it] was a little bit more difficult for students to get hours so we decided to give indirect hours,” Hopkins said. “I had a student focus group get together and we discussed what would be reasonable. They said no more than five hours, indirect for a full bag of groceries or a gift card.”

This change has proved extremely impactful and caused the number of donations received during Thanksgiving Outreach to increase 291% from 2019. Despite the challenges presented by COVID-19, Campus Ministry was able to collect 200 boxes of food and $10,700 worth of gift cards last year.

This year, the number of donations has only increased with Campus Ministry receiving a total of 250 boxes of food and over $15,000 in grocery store gift cards which will be distributed to the community through agencies including Catholic Charities Orange County, SPIN, The Vietnamese Catholic Student Association, St. Joseph Parish, and San Antonio de Padua Family Assistance.

While receiving indirect service hours is a great way to motivate students to bring in donations, the true importance behind the Thanksgiving Outreach lies in the direct impact it has on the community.

“It’s what we’re meant to do, to look out for people,” Hopkins said. “If you’re putting the needs of someone else before your own and sacrificing a little bit, that’s just what it’s about. Living our faith. Looking outside yourself. Looking for a way to help other people. Seeking an opportunity to do good and make a difference, however [small]. It is the season where everybody gets excited [to give] and it’s really fun to be able to contribute to that and make that happen for families [by] giving them just not what they need [to get by], but what they need to celebrate this holiday.”

During the week before Thanksgiving, the donations collected and sorted by Campus Ministry during Thanksgiving Outreach are distributed to agencies which expressed need throughout Orange County by the Campus Ministry commissioners and organizers.

One such agency, SPIN, focuses on helping homeless families and individuals and works to locate and maintain housing for them.

Ladeshia Goubert is one of the case managers at SPIN who works directly with families on housing navigation. Goubert works with each family she takes on for anywhere from three months to up to one year.

Goubert herself talks to 15 to 20 families each day on average, but the entirety of SPIN serves 30 to 40 families annually in their Christmas program alone. Along with the families in their other programs and the individuals and families not enrolled in one of their programs that they work with, SPIN has reached far and wide throughout Orange County.

“Our grant cycle starts in December and it goes to [the next] November,” Goubert said. “But then we have a lot of other grants that are always going, like we do a rental assistance grant that is for Costa Mesa. We are constantly getting new funding. In the course of our December to December grant, we are usually serving between 30 and 40 families.”

SPIN does not act alone, though. The agency, along with other churches and organizations, has built a network throughout the community to help homeless and low-income families and individuals.

“I work with a lot of churches,” Goubert said. “[Such as] St. Vincent DePaul, a lot of other agencies, and we just kind of all collaborate and try to help families as quickly as possible. I’ve formed some really good friendships with people that are able to do something for our families right away, which is what we need. The sooner you act, the quicker that person gets help.”

Goubert is in a unique position as a case manager because she works closely and advocates for families for extended periods of time, allowing her to get to know the family and develop personal connections with each member.

“That’s what everybody really needs,” Goubert said. “Someone to work for them. Because when they call sometimes they don’t get the response that they need as quickly as if they have a case manager, somebody who knows their whole situation, who’s calling and advocating on their behalf.”

The most busy time of the year at SPIN is around the time of Thanksgiving and Christmas — the holiday season. The influx of donations, including the donated goods from the Thanksgiving Outreach at Mater Dei, go directly from SPIN to the families and individuals they serve.

“Anytime you donate it’s always distributed to all the families that are currently enrolled in our program,” Goubert said. “And in addition to the families that are enrolled in our program, we’re working with families on the side, trying to actively get them into shelter and get them into programs and get them into housing eventually.”

Students possess a unique opportunity to have a direct, positive impact on the community by donating goods to the Thanksgiving Outreach and donating or working with SPIN directly. Other than just donating goods, students can volunteer to sort and package the goods and help with distribution.

“It’s going to go to a great cause,” Goubert said. “I get to know [the families] really well over three and six months and up to a year and they’re just really appreciative and they really need the help. They don’t have money to buy a lot of things that we kind of take for granted. You’re helping to fill a need.”

If students are interested in further volunteering with the Thanksgiving Outreach by packaging or distributing the donations, they can reach out to Mrs. Stephanie Hopkins at [email protected].

To donate to or volunteer with SPIN directly, visit https://www.spinoc.org/get-involved.