Volunteers from the Adopt a Family program during their 2020 distribution day.
(COURTESY AMINAH TOLER)

By DIEGO JESUS BARTESAGHI MENA
bartesaghi@montclairlocal.news

An Adopt a Family program first created last year to help Montclair and West Orange families with gifts for Christmas is returning for the 2021 holiday season.

The program was created by Ann Pollack, a former longtime Montclair resident who now lives in West Orange, as a way to help families that were struggling during the coronavirus pandemic. 

She said families were facing unexpected challenges they couldn’t plan for

“I actually was in a major ski accident in March of 2019. So, I was recovering all through COVID and I was thinking: ‘Boy, I was lucky that I had a lot of support, but not everybody does,’” Pollack said. 

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She knew of people who had “adopted” families before, but she didn’t know how to go about it herself.

“So, I posted on Facebook. I said: ‘I want to adopt a family for the holidays that really had a challenge this year with everything that is going on,” Pollack said. She asked if anyone had any ideas.

Pollack heard from residents of West Orange asking for assistance for their own families. And she got a message from Aminah Toler, one of the founding members of Montclair Mutual Aid, offering the group’s help. Toler helped her structure a program, and several Montclair Mutual Aid members are now among the program’s volunteers.

“I had no idea when I put that Facebook post that it was going to turn into something this wonderful. It turned into an amazing outpouring of generous people giving gifts,” Pollack said. “Even to the day we were getting ready to distribute [the gifts], people were saying, ‘Can I give? Can you come pick up from me?’ And we had so much fun.

“We put our Santa hats on and we went around and distributed them to all the families. So, it was fun because it wasn’t just sending it out and never seeing the response.”

Volunteers place gifts outside a family’s front porch during the 2020 Adopt a Family distribution (COURTESY AMINAH TOLER)

Pollack said during last year’s Adopt a Family, gifts were distributed to eight families. This year, she said, the program will benefit 14 families in Montclair, and three in West Orange that were affected when Hurricane Ida’s flooding caused an apartment complex on Northfield Avenue to be evacuated.

“I reached out to the town of West Orange and said: ‘Let me know if there’s people in that group that we should be helping as well.’ So, we’ve actually got three families out of those 43 families affected that are also included this year,” Pollack said. 

Pollack said only one family is carried over from last year, which she said is a good thing because organizers want the program to focus on people who’ve had unexpected and uncontrollable hardships, and to make a difference in their lives. 

This year, those looking to give can do so by going to signupgenius.com and searching for the email address associated with the program, mtc.adoptafamily@gmail.com.

There, they’ll see a list of families, labeled A to O (but otherwise anonymous). A donor can select a family and see its members’ needs. 

“It’s really simple,” Kimberly Latortue, a Montclair resident and member of Montclair Mutual Aid who set up the Adopt a Program’s listing on the website. “And you can choose more than one item. You can choose more than one family. You can kind of mix and match through the families.”

Latortue said each family is assigned to a volunteer, and the volunteer’s contact information is listed so donors can reach them and get them wrapped gifts to distribute.

Items donated to the Adopt a Family program might include winter clothes, toys or gifts intended for the whole family.
(COURTESY AMINAH TOLER)

Latortue said last year, people had items they wanted to donate beyond those specifically requested. She said donors can contact the volunteers, herself, Toler or the group email address (mtc.adoptafamily@gmail.com) to make arrangements and get those gifts to families who’d be good matches. 

Monetary donations are also welcome, Latortue said. They can be sent via Venmo to @MontclairMutualAid (if it prompts you for the last last four numbers of the recipient’s cell phone, use “9044”) or via CashApp at $adoptafamily2021

“We’ll do the shopping as long as they identify what family [it] is for to make sure we’re shopping for the right family,” Toler said. “We don’t mind doing that. It works out nicely. We’re just looking forward to spreading a little holiday cheer again this year.” 

Toler said another way to sign up to donate the items is through the “Angel Tree” Montclair Diner will be setting up after Thanksgiving. There will be cards listing items families need, as well as the assigned volunteers’ contact information. Anyone interested can take a card and reach out, or speak with someone at the diner for more information about donating.

There are also several opportunities to volunteer, Latortue said. Anyone interested in wrapping gifts, helping on the distribution date (Dec. 11) or helping pick up items can write directly to mtc.adoptafamily@gmail.com

“Even though we have the families assigned, we love extra hands,” Latortue said. The program is bigger this year, so the help is appreciated. 

Pollack said she is grateful for the outpouring of support. She said that she is happy the program made it into a second year, and she thinks it will continue growing. 

“I’m so grateful personally for everybody that helped me make this bigger than just one family that I was trying to do. As a group, I think that we’re so grateful to all of the people that are so generous and want to do something,” Pollack said. 

Donations can be dropped off until the distribution date, but organizers urge donors to do so  earlier, to make sure all gifts are wrapped and ready.

Aminah Toler is a part-time employee of Montclair Local News.