As Mike Patton and the Healthy Grandparents Program volunteers were loading gifts, food and a double-crusted apple pie into a grandmother’s truck, all she could say was “Y’all are going to make me cry.”
With indoor celebrations postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Patton and the program played host to a drive-thru Christmas party on Sunday, Dec. 20, at the TBonz Catering Hall. The event supplied 35 families and 85 children with more than 400 gifts as well as a box of masks, food provided by TBonz and an apple or pumpkin pie.
Patton, a social worker and program coordinator for Augusta University’s Healthy Grandparents Program, said this was in addition to the stockings for the children and gift cards for the grandparents that had been collected earlier.
“We wanted to try and get three or four presents for families that are in their first year in the program,” Patton said. “I thought I was going to be calling in favors left and right, do a little begging … which I’m fine with. But I sent out one email, and within a week and a half, two weeks, all of the kids were covered.”
The Healthy Grandparents Program was established at the College of Nursing in January 1999 to provide physical, emotional and social support to grandparents and great-grandparents raising their grandchildren ages 0-17 living in parent-absent homes.
Tameka Allen, director of information technology with the city of Augusta-Richmond County, and Shelly Good, administrative assistant for IT, partnered with the partnered with the Human Resources, Planning and Development and Procurement Departments, to provide gifts for several families. For them, teaming up and putting a good spin on 2020 was a no-brainer.
“And for me, it’s really important,” Good said. “2020 has been a really difficult year, and a lot of people have lost a lot of things. And so for us, giving back to the community is really important to us in our organization, and so any way that we can help a family in need and help a kid have a Christmas that’s beyond special and magical in a year that’s been so incredibly awful and drastically different from years past, we were all on board for it, definitely.”
Allen added, “The city of Augusta always believes in giving back, and one of the best ways we can give back is trying to make someone’s Christmas a special event. We’ve always provided Christmas gifts for the students of various schools, and this year we thought about doing this with the grandparents program that Augusta University hosts.
“For me, it started when my sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha, the Zeta Xi Omega Chapter, did Thanksgiving and partnered with Augusta University. So we asked, why not partner with them for Christmas? And that’s what we did. The other departments that we partnered with on this journey said that sounds like a great idea, and we all we all chipped in together.”
Among those to help Allen and Good was Cecilia Woodruff, who works with the Planning and Development Department. She said it was fun and everybody in the department was willing and excited to lend a hand.
“The experience was wonderful. It’s absolutely wonderful that we can still give back to the kids,” Woodruff said. “We stayed social distanced but were still able to meet some families … It was awesome.”
The past year forced Patton to adjust how he interacts with families. In the early months, he was still able to visit with some families and sit outside and be socially distant. As the year progressed, those interactions changed.
“It’s been a rough year but the grandparents have adjusted pretty well. They’ve made the most of it,” Patton said. “The biggest thing that’s out of their control, is school. Their biggest concern is the kids, especially if they have more than one at home and only have one computer. I think that’s probably the biggest need that we’re trying to tackle right now is how do we make sure these kids don’t get too far behind with their schooling?”
Patton said not being able to have a party like they’re used to, with Santa Claus and a sit-down dinner, was disappointing until they finally decided what they wanted to do: Give the kids a good Christmas and some presents. And he credits the community for helping achieve that goal.
“We are grateful to all of the individuals, businesses and organizations that provided a gift for the children this year,” Patton said. “The College of Nursing has always helped us a lot, and a lot of employees at AU from all over campus helped us out this year. A lot of our donors have been doing this for many years. We’re just very, very thankful for the response … I’m just very thankful for all the help because we could not do this without them.”