For Georgia Butterfield, the holidays are never easy. Her heart is especially empty, mourning the loss of her son Cory who suddenly died in 1994 at age 38 from a brain hemorrhage.
That first empty Christmas, someone came to her real estate office looking for volunteers to help wrap gifts for a program called Adopt An Angel. Butterfield didn’t know much about the program, but decided to help to get her mind off her loss.
Adopt an Angel, she learned, collects holiday gifts for needy children of Alameda County, Calif.
Two years later,the chairman of the program was leaving and asked Butterfield if she would take on that role. Since then, she has poured her grief into helping Alameda County’s children and teenagers who face the holidays without hope.
“I do this in memory of my son,” Butterfield says. “It’s been therapeutic for me to help grant wishes to the kids who otherwise would not have a Christmas.”
For 18 years, Butterfield has led the nonprofit Adopt An Angel, providing gifts to more than 8,000 children. Last year alone, 800 children were served. The children referred to Butterfield live in group homes, shelters, foster care, and low-income situations, some carrying unimaginable burdens of pain and neglect.
“Lots of puzzle pieces come together just because of the good hearts out there.” —Georgia L. Butterfield
“The thought of a child going back to school on the Monday after Christmas and not having Santa pay them a visit is just too sad,” Butterfield says.
Each fall as the holidays approach, Butterfield gets names of children from Alameda County Protective Services and nonprofit Terra Firma. For each name, she also gets the child’s age, size, gender, and a wish list of three gifts. Then Butterfield and her volunteers make up wish tags and reach out to companies, churches, and others who will donate the gifts.
Her efforts have become a yearly tradition as her community steps forward to help grant wishes. “We just had such good responses from people, that we were able to receive more names each year,” Butterfield says.
So with generous donations, contributions, and her own funds, Butterfield makes it her mission to shop sales year-round to fulfill the most frequent wishes — bikes, board games, and dolls. Butterfield limits the costs of the three gifts to $75, $50, and $25, which makes it hard to fulfill the dreams of video game consoles, music players, and other high-priced items.
“Kids have no idea of what most things cost so it’s not that they’re being greedy,” says Butterfield. “They see things on television and want them.” She is able to give out around 100 shiny new bicycles each year.
But as fun as it is to make a big splash with bikes and toys, many of the children’s wishes are basic necessities such as school supplies, clothes, and shoes. Older teenagers, some of whom anticipate aging out of the foster system at 18, often ask for pots and pans, towels, and bed sheets because they know they will soon be living on their own. Reading these kinds of wishes motivates Butterfield to give the true meaning for the holidays for the children who need it most.
Each November, Butterfield secures a donated warehouse where all of the gifts are neatly stacked, tagged and sorted by age. After Thanksgiving, 130 volunteers from her real estate office, Boy and Girl Scouts, a local church, and others from the community gather to help wrap the 2,000-plus gifts.
Of the hundreds of children she has helped, there is a child that appeared on the list many years ago who she always remembers: a boy who is bedridden because his mother dipped him in hot oil when he was a baby. He wishes every year for books, DVDs, and a sweatshirt. “He is one example of the brutality these kids endure. I still buy gifts for him, he’s 16 years old,” Butterfield says. “I have a strong anonymous tie to him.”
Bertha Cuellar, executive director of Terra Firma, a nonprofit that provides names of children in need to Butterfield, says she is often touched by the dramatic displays of gratitude expressed by the families who have received gifts from Adopt An Angel.
Cuellar remembers a single mother who walked three miles with four children and a red wagon, rushing to load bags of gifts so her daughters could ride their new bikes home. She also recalls a blind father who walked 20 blocks with his cane to receive gifts for his three children.
Jenny Carranza, 29, a single mom of two daughters from Fremont, Calif., who took counseling classes at Terra Firma, says, “We wouldn’t have had a Christmas. I was not able to afford the toys. Thank you, Adopt An Angel for making my babies faces light up.”
Despite increasing need and a tough economy, Butterfield finds that people are still willing to volunteer and give donations. The 7th and 8th graders of Walters Junior High in Fremont collected their lunch money in a jar and gave a donation of $1,001 to the program. “That’s a whole lot of nickels and dimes, and from some [children] who are in foster care themselves. They are giving from the heart,” Butterfield says.
Her efforts have come full-circle, changing holiday spirits, including her own. She gains strength from the scrapbooks full of thank-you notes received from the children — and smiles when she thinks about putting hope in their hearts.
Contact Georgia L. Butterfield at Legacy Real Estate and Associates, ERA Powered in Fremont, Calif. via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.