“It brought back home the true meaning of the holiday spirit,” one Medford sponsor said.
It started with an inconspicuous post in the “Medford, MA Politics” Facebook group, frequently used by residents to discuss local political issues.
“Can anyone recommend a contact to possibly ‘adopt a family’ for the holidays,” Medford resident David J. Koehn posted in the public group on Dec. 7. “More specifically a family with children that needs assistance with affording Xmas/holiday gifts? Thx.”
Meanwhile, Erin Murphy Rafferty, the CEO of the Wonderfund, a nonprofit that works with the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families to support foster children and children in traumatic situations, had recently found out that the Wonderfund needed more volunteers to “sponsor” children for the holiday season.
The Wonderfund serves children across the Commonwealth, including in Medford. Sponsors are paired with one or more kids and given their name, age and holiday wish list.
This year, there were 45,000 children in need of sponsors, 3,000 more than last year.
“I had gotten a last minute SOS call from a social worker, who said they had 20 children who recently got involved with the DCF and didn’t have sponsors for the holidays,” Rafferty, also a Medford resident, explained.
Rafferty commented on Koehn’s post, stating what the Wonderfund does and the group’s need for more sponsors. She also made a post calling for sponsors on her personal Facebook page, which Koehn shared with his work network.
Suddenly, messages from Medford residents looking to sponsor children started flooding Rafferty’s inbox.
“All in all, we got more than 50 Medford residents who stepped up and spent their time and hard-earned money to make Christmas magical for these very special kids,” Rafferty said. “Medford totally rose to the challenge.”
Koehn ended up sponsoring at least four children.
“You get their names and three or four things that they want, so it’s much more personal,” he said of Wonderfund, as compared to simply donating gifts at large. “People from Medford latched on, which is not surprising. That’s how people are in this town.”
Many of the Medford residents who ended up sponsoring a child had not done so in the past, but were impressed with the simplicity of the process and the personalized nature of the organization.
Angela Moore, who sponsored more than one child, first heard about the Wonderfund from Rafferty directly, but also saw the posts about it on social media.
“We were chatting one night about it and [Rafferty] said that suddenly there were a whole bunch of kids who needed to be sponsored. It was a no-brainer,” Moore said. “You can’t help but think of your own children in a similar situation.”
Moore said that the experience reminded her and her own children to be thankful for all that they have and of the meaning of the holiday season.
“It was heartbreaking how a lot of the requests [for gifts] were things that should be a given in any child’s life,” she said. “Nothing seemed exorbitant. Nothing seemed like a luxury. It was just, ‘I need a new hoodie.’”
Another first-time sponsor, Deborah Board, said that as soon as she heard about the opportunity to sponsor children, she immediately signed up.
“These kids need to wake up on Christmas and have the same experience as my daughter -- to have their faces light up, for any age, even for teenagers, just to know people are thinking of them and that they’re so special,” Board said.
Until last week, Rafferty’s garage and dining room looked like “Santa’s workshop,” filled to the brims with toys and other gifts. The donations were picked up the morning of Dec. 14 to be sent to children across the state.
“Every single person came through with these kids,” she said. “These kids are going to be absolutely spoiled for Christmas.”
Though Rafferty grew up in Medford, she only knew a few of the 50 plus sponsors from the city.
“It’s been an amazing experience for me to feel so much more connected to the community I live in,” she added.