The Allen County Christmas Bureau Inc. volunteers had readied the warehouse for the Adopt a Family Program, and they were looking forward to going home after an exhilarating but exhausting day. That is, until a phone call came in asking them to wait just a half hour more. As tired as they were, the volunteers waited.
Soon, a man arrived who looked as if he needed help. But he wasn’t there for a handout. After telling the volunteers about a period of unemployment he had suffered the year before and how the Christmas Bureau had helped his family at that time, he handed over a $400 donation. “He did not give his name and would not accept a receipt. He vanished as quickly as he came. Well, there were six Christmas Bureau volunteers crying their eyes out after that fellow left,” says Bureau President Jane Surbeck. “Stories like this make it all worthwhile,” she adds.
The Allen County Christmas Bureau Inc. is a not-for-profit corporation dedicated to assisting needy families in Allen County with gifts for Christmas. These gifts consist of food, paper products, personal hygiene items, cleaning needs, toys, clothing and other household needs and are collected for the families through the Adopt a Family Program, according to the Bureau’s annual report.
To adopt a family in need for Christmas, send a contribution or volunteer, contact the Allen County Christmas Bureau, Inc. at PO Box 13265, Fort Wayne, IN 46868, or call Jane Surbeck at (260) 710-2163.
This year, 372 families have been adopted by the Bureau. Says Surbeck, “The Christmas Bureau works with social service agencies whose case managers refer their clients to the Christmas Bureau for assistance. The clients are then matched with businesses, churches, individuals, organizations and schools who have requested a family ‘to adopt’ for the holiday season.” The adoptees’ names remain confidential, and are not even given to the adopters. Those who have adopted a family deliver the gifts to the Christmas Bureau where the case managers make sure their clients get the packages. “Remember: this is the only Christmas the family receives,” says the letter to those who adopt.
This year, the Bureau’s warehouse will be open the week of Dec. 1-5 to collect food, paper, cleaning and hygiene products — necessary items not always thought of when it comes to Christmas. The adopters are scheduled to bring their donations to the warehouse between Dec. 8-10 and will be contacted with instructions on how to go about delivering their gifts.
With the exception of minimal administrative costs (The Bureau doesn’t even have a dedicated phone line. Board members use their personal phone numbers for the outreach), funds collected go directly to help needy families. While the Bureau is proud to have been able to see every referred family adopted last year, “In 2013, a few families were not taken care of appropriately and one family was abandoned on the day of delivery. The Christmas Bureau had volunteers fill the families’ packages in order to meet their needs,” reports the Bureau’s solicitation letter. Leftover supplies are delivered to an Associated Churches Food Bank for distribution. Any excess funds are distributed through local social service agencies.
Margaret Ann Keegan, founder of the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, also founded the Bureau in 1936. The program continued until 1991 when it was discontinued due to a lack of funds and volunteers. The next year, however, those who had previously been involved decided it was too important a program to let it go, and the program was reinstated. Using 26 social service agencies, their aim is to adopt every needy Allen County family for Christmas.