November 28, 2010

C.U. Annual Elves Program Kicks Off

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While elves at the North Pole may be gearing up for Christmas Eve, Cornell’s own elves are preparing for the holidays in Tompkins County. Since 1989, the Cornell University Elves program has donated hundreds of gifts to needy local children during the winter holiday season.The program –– founded by Bill Alberta, M.S. ’77, associate director of Cornell Career Services –– donates clothing, school supplies and toys to students in elementary schools in Tompkins County and surrounding areas. “Most people who take part in the program are affiliated with Cornell. Anyone can join and many other people do help,” Alberta said. “We get different student groups involved. Quite a few members of the Greek system take part. Individual students often do as well.”Children are chosen to be recipients of the program through the recommendations of nurses and social workers at the schools, who also determine specific items that a child may need. The program provides a wide range of volunteer opportunities. Sponsors can sign on as Shopper Elves, Wrapper Elves or Delivery Elves. The “elves” are responsible for shopping and making sure every child receives each item on the checklist. The elves then deliver the wrapped packages to the schools where they are either picked up or transported to the homes of the needy children. Sponsors can also simply donate money and let others shop for them.“I just opened checks for $325 this morning, which is wonderful, from people who love the program but hate to shop. Then we have people who love to shop, which works out nicely,” Alberta said.While there are other organizations on campus that help the less fortunate during the holiday season, Alberta said that Cornell Elves is distinctive in the way it helps needy children, according to Alberta. “We provide more for the children than any other program and, not to disrespect any other program, ours probably does more per child than anyone around,” Alberta said.Each child receives about $100-$125 worth of toys, clothing and school supplies. All of the items are purchased new. An associated program is the Backpack Program, which was founded in 2007 and is run by Maureen Brull, manager of life and education plans in University Human Resource Services. The program was founded to help needy children carry their school supplies in backpacks, rather than in plastic or paper bags like they had been doing in the past.“A lot of people that do the holiday elves represent the same schools for the backpack programs,” Brull said. “The idea for the program was its own, but the context and the people that support the program are connected to the holiday elves. It is the same as the holiday elves in that anyone can be involved that wants to do it.”“There is no outside funding. The money for the program is donated by individuals or different groups who have done fundraisers for us,” Alberta added. “We’re big on shopping for bargains. We need quality for the kids because the nurses tell us that the kids wear them a lot, so they need to hold up.”The backpack program also has different levels of contributions, with some people simply donating money while others spend time shopping for school supplies.“We have an employee on campus –– she and her sister take all of their kids –– they call it ‘cousins week,’ and they brought in nine backpacks this summer. They have a day where they shop for the items,” Brull said.Although schools may request specific items for their students, each school leader works individually with the specific school administration to fulfill their requests. “We have been able to keep the cost of a filled backpack to about $20 because you can always find them on sale and the list always stays the same,” Brull said. “Each one of us who sponsors a school needs to go out and find people who will purchase backpacks. We each have our own contact list that we work with.” The elves program’s organizers said that feedback for the program has been only positive. “The feedback is incredible. The first year we gave out 284 backpacks, 2008 we gave out 329, in 2009 we gave out 357 and this year we gave out 449. It was a tremendous year for us,” Brull said. The Elves program receives feedback in the form of letters from parents who give them to the nurses and social workers that recommended their children to be recipients of the gifts. “I’m a single mom with four children and we’re one of the families in need this year,” an anonymous parent wrote on a feedback form provided by the program’s organizers. “Although I work full time, budget is very tight and I can’t afford much for Christmas. My kids and I were completely amazed by the generosity shown to us.”

Original Author: Rachel Rabinowitz