This Thanksgiving many West Valley families will have a worry-free meal. Estrella Mountain Community College (EMCC) provided more than 175 holiday food boxes to families in need Nov. 23 during its fifth annual Holiday Helping Hands event.
“It was a great success,” said Landis Elliott, Workforce Development Manager. “We were able to help more than double the families we assisted last year.”
The brainchild of Rachel Holmes, Director of the Teacher Institute, Holiday Helping Hands has grown in more ways than one.
“Holiday Helping Hands came about after my students and I were talking about how many families we will be working with that live in poverty and the different challenges that the children face,” Holmes said. “We talked about how during the holidays, many of the K-12 students don’t have that big Thanksgiving feast, so my teacher education students decided that we needed to reach out to the local families and make sure that those who are in need have a Thanksgiving meal.”
The initial goal was to identify some struggling families and give them Thanksgiving meal boxes, but as Holmes and her students brainstormed, it expanded into something much bigger.
“It was suggested that we also donate clothing to the families and then my students asked themselves, ‘How do we integrate learning into this?’ so they created educational and carnival games,” Holmes said. “Now, it’s developed into a free food box for each family, complete with all the fixings and a $20 gift certificate for a ham or turkey, free clothing, a mini-carnival put on by the teacher education students, storytelling, a free lunch provided to all of the families, and outdoor entertainment.”
Students, faculty, and staff make the day extra special for the little ones by dressing up as characters from comic books and Disney movies.
“It’s a win-win for our education students who read to the children,” Holmes said. “It allows them the opportunity to practice what they’ve learned about storytelling and being in character and bringing characters from literature to life.”
Care1st Avondale Resource Center, local school districts, and EMCC faculty, staff, and students help to identify families in need. In the past, the goal was to serve 50 families, but this year, Holmes and her students upped the ante.
“Every year it’s been 50, but there hasn’t been one year when we only served 50,” Holmes said. “We get so many donations that we always have extra boxes that we give to local agencies to give to needy families. Last year, we ended up with 78 boxes, so we said, ‘Let’s go for 100 this year.’”
As with previous events, that goal was surpassed. EMCC partnered with Gateway Community College, the cities of Avondale and Litchfield Park, the Southwest Valley Chamber of Commerce, and Copper Springs Hospital to raise money and put together food boxes; students from Youngker High School also volunteered their time, creating and running carnival games; EMCC’s Culinary students served lunch; and Tolleson Elementary School’s Mariachi Band provided entertainment.
“All of this would not have been possible without collaboration from EMCC students/staff/faculty and the community,” Landis said.
Holmes’ favorite part of the event is seeing the joy and relief on the parents’ faces, knowing that they are going to be able to provide a Thanksgiving meal this year.
“This allows them to enjoy the family time without wondering how they’re going to pay for it,” Holmes said. “If we can ease the burden on families, even just for one day, then it’s all worth it.”