Penn holiday drives benefit families, the homeless, and refugees

With the winter holidays just around the corner, there’s no better time to give. Across Penn’s campus, there are endless ways to get involved.

Along with Penn Volunteers in Public Service (Penn VIPS), Isabel Sampson-Mapp, associate director of the Netter Center for Community Partnerships, is leading an “adopt-a-family” program where Penn departments and centers purchase gifts for underprivileged families in the Philadelphia community. This is usually done in lieu of departmental gift exchanges.

Departments are paired with families based on size, and are provided with their names, ages, sizes, and even a “wish list.”

“It can be sad because often the first items on their lists are coats, clothing, shoes, bedding, blankets, sheets, towels, pots, pans, and then toys,” says Mapp. “We are very happy to provide this service because we have really seen it make a huge difference through the holidays and going forward for the families.”

Each year, about 40 departments from Penn are able to help out about 50 families. Families, who are eligible to participate in the program on a one-time basis, are selected from the Baring House Family Service Agency, as well as local shelters. Departments are encouraged to deliver gifts to the families, but they may also request to have gifts delivered.

“We’re letting the different families of the community know that we care,” says Mapp. “I’ve seen departments provide beds, televisions, microwaves. They’ve even donated furniture. It’s the best to see the looks on the families’ faces when we bring a load of gifts they wouldn’t have otherwise had.”

Mapp says departments that wish to adopt a family should contact her at by Friday, Dec. 9.

Some other options for getting involved on and around campus this holiday season include:

Donate clothes

Penn VIPS is hosting a winter coat drive through Friday, Dec. 16. Gently used coats can be dropped off at the Netter Center, 111 S. 38th St., or at the Department of Physics & Astronomy in David Rittenhouse Laboratory, 209 S. 33rd St. The items will be sent to the Salvation Army and the Life Center Shelter. 

Through Dec. 16, the University City District (UCD) is accepting donations of professional apparel for men and women at its 3940 Chestnut St. office. Donations will be sent to Career Wardrobe, a social enterprise that uses clothing and professional development to empower individuals to work. The UCD office is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Donate toys

Penn VIPS has placed large boxes in convenient locations around campus for Penn community members to donate new, unwrapped gifts for its toy drive. Presents will support the People’s Emergency Center, local schools, Potter’s House Mission, Bridges to Community, Intercultural Family Services, and more. Some convenient locations to drop off items include the President’s Office, 100 College Hall; the Wharton School, 3730 Walnut St.; Student Health Service, 3535 Market St.; and Van Pelt Library, 3420 Walnut St.

The School of Veterinary Medicine’s Ryan Hospital, at 3900 Spruce St., is hosting a holiday toy drive through Thursday, Dec. 15, benefiting the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Some suggested items to donate include board books, baby teething rings, bath toys, craft and supplies, and sports apparel, but all donations are appreciated.

Donate time

For almost two decades, Glenn Bryan, assistant vice president of community relations in the Office of Government and Community Affairs (OGCA), has gotten Penn involved with Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell’s Holiday Party for the Homeless. This year’s get-together, on Wednesday, Dec. 14, is slated to bring more than 5,000 people to the Philadelphia Convention Center. More than 100 employees from the Perelman School of Medicine and the University are participating at the event.

“The party itself has grown by leaps and bounds over the years,” says Bryan. “Penn volunteers gift wrap presents that are handed out to attendees, help chaperone, and staff the party.”

A large number of the gifts come from Penn President Amy Gutmann’s annual holiday reception, where attendees are invited to bring small gifts for children, teenagers, or adults who are in need.

Bryan says there’s still time to get involved. Contact the OGCA office for details.

Donate supplies

Through Dec. 9, the Master of Environmental Studies (MES) and Master of Science in Applied Geosciences (MSAG) Graduate Advisory Board is leading an effort to support local organization Narenj Tree Foundation, which aids Syrian refugees. Items requested include lightly worn or new clothes, shoes, non-perishable food, toiletry items, and school supplies.

Heather Kostick, an MES student and Penn staff member, says the most requested items are feminine products and diapers.

“It’s a great time to clean out your closets or take advantage of the great sales that are happening this time of year,” Kostick says.

Bring necessary goods to the MES and MSAG office, room 269, in Hayden Hall, 240 S. 33rd St.

Holiday Drives