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Christmas giving program needs donors

Armful of Love fills a donated warehouse space each winter with gifts meant for local families in need. The program’s website is http://bit.ly/1xvsmmP

If Tara Urbia ever wonders about the impact of Armful of Love, all she needs to do is watch the faces of the people she talks to about the holiday giving program.

When they come in, parents often look weighed down, burdened by worries about whether they’ll be able to give their children a merry Christmas. When they leave, knowing they will be matched with donors willing to provide a little Christmas cheer, that burden has been lifted.

“When we talk about gifts for each child, it’s fun to see their face light up — what they like, what they don’t like, what they’re really hoping Santa will bring,” said Urbia, a family support worker at Meadowview Elementary School and Farmington High School. “They have a new degree of hope.”

Armful of Love, run by 360 Communities, is now in its 42nd year of matching families in need with others willing to help provide a little holiday cheer. This year organizers expect to help about 1,000 families, including more than 100 in Farmington and Rosemount. Families are interviewed and asked to provide four wishes for each child and one for each adult.

“They’re not extravagant,” said Anika Rychner, 360 Communities’ director of self-sufficiency. “These families are living in poverty, so they’re asking for essentials.”

Volunteers interviewed more than 800 families for the program at 360 Communities’ central Armful of Love location, a donated warehouse space in Burnsville. School support workers like Urbia and workers at the Rosemount Family Resource Center interviewed more at their locations.

In addition to matching families with donors, those interviews can also connect people to other 360 Communities programs, including food shelves and homeless shelters.

The wish lists families provide during their interview provide guidelines, but they’re not requirements. In the matching process, 360 Communities tries to pair similar families. It’s easier to shop for a 10-year-old boy, the thinking goes, if you’ve got one yourself.

Families often go above and beyond the items on the wish lists.

That pairing of similar families is one of Rychner’s favorite parts of Armful of Love.

“I love the way it brings community together, because it provides such a beautiful opportunity for so many people,” she said. “It’s a really beautiful thing to watch other families who care about each other. How sponsors truly care about the families they’re supporting and how it makes those families feel.”

As of last week, 360 Communities had about 80 percent of the donors it needed to match with families. Rychner hopes to find the rest of the sponsors before Thanksgiving. Anyone interested in participating can go to the 360 Communities website to sign up.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

(651) 460-6606