Tree of Hope Offers Christmas Help
By Dianne Anderson
This time of year always gets a little intense for Pamela Foddrell, who has been running nonstop since she kicked off her Christmas campaign – but it’s a happy kind of stress.
Many donors choose to adopt entire families for her Tree of Hope, where boxes of toys and gifts are pouring in. Some donors like to stay with their adoptive families year after year. “We have people calling us even before I get the families on the tree requesting the families they had the previous year,” she said. “They’ve grown with them.”
Year-round, the program tries to get mostly disabled clients to a place of self-sufficiency by helping them connect with resources. Especially during the holidays, no one has the heart to the tell their kids that the bills come first at Christmastime.
She tries to work with families to avoid spending money that could jeopardize their security.
“It’s not about the gifts. It’s about families who would put off paying rent to provide gifts for their children, we don’t want that to happen,” she said.
Over the years, many of her clients that she connects with help and resources are also coping with some form of physical disability, and unable to return to work. Like herself, they must learn to survive on a tight income.
Foddrell often shares her own story of how she had to stop working while battling Sarcoidosis, a debilitating immune disorder. There was also the harsh reality of adjusting to earning less in one month than she once pulled in one week’s paycheck.
Though that journey, she has learned to help others deal with their physical and financial hardships. It doesn’t help that many of her clients have families and fall in a financial gray zone. They don’t qualify for food stamps or other social programs.
“It’s a shock when they have had a certain amount of income, and all of a sudden they can’t work anymore,” she said. “We want to fill the gap.”
In Long Beach, her recent partnership with St. Mary’s Hospital Helping Hands is expanding her reach to needy families. Their employees are helping adopt children in need.
“We already have families adopted off the tree,” she said. “We have 60 of their referred families. I’m excited about that. It gives people an option who can’t afford to adopt a whole family.”
Until recently, the minimum donation on the tree was $150, but the program now includes an option to adopt a family from St. Mary’s for a $15 per child gift. The collaboration opens affordable choices to help more kids.
Last year, she served over 118 families and provided gifts for about 300 children. Soon, she wants to start implementing self-sufficiency workshops in the Inland Empire. At her new Loma Linda location, she will continue providing case management for families with year-round help in Long Beach, the Inland Empire, and parts of Orange County.
However, the move is bittersweet.
“I’m leaving the area, but gentrification is going on really strong here in Long Beach. The average one bedroom apartment downtown is $1,800-2,400 a month,” she said.
Currently, she serves 31 families consistently, and counting. Among them, domestic violence survivor Eileen Om, who at one point was stranded with her family of five children.
She said the Tree of Hope was a Godsend.
Of Filipino descent, Om said that women in her culture are raised to make the marriage work at all costs, but domestic violence left her family in turmoil. Her husband is now in prison.
She had a great job in human resources, but was laid off, and suddenly while going through a divorce, didn’t have enough to carry her family for the high cost of childcare. She received a referral to Tree of Hope six years ago when all her daughter wanted for Christmas was a turkey.
She too fell in that financially gray zone, and her food stamps were not approved on time.
“I didn’t qualify for enough services. I was going through the divorce, I lost my job at the same time. Everything hit all at once,” she said.
About the same time, Foddrell’s program also helped her daughter, a high school senior, who won an essay contest for “A prom fit for a queen,” and received a dress with all accessories.
“It was wonderful. It was a relief for me financially because of the rent, food, and utilities. A prom dress is over $100, it was a really a blessing,” she said.
For the last four years, Om has been an avid volunteer for several of Foddrell’s programs and outreach, as well as their annual backpack resource and giveaway fair. Lately, she has taken on duties as assistant project coordinator, and said it’s been a privilege to help as she was helped.
“This year I’m doing a lot more with Adopt a Tree,” she said. “I want my kids to understand what it’s like, and I have my kids volunteer when they’re not in school.”
To donate, see www.foundhope2009.org