Community volunteers and Voluntary Action Center staff filled the gymnasium at Broadway Christian Church with donated holiday gifts on Dec. 5, then launched VAC’s 39th annual gift drive and distribution with a ribbon-cutting event three days later.
“What you see here is the holiday spirit and the generosity of Boone County and Columbia, Missouri,” said VAC Executive Director Ed Stansberry before he helped wield the Columbia Chamber of Commerce’s ceremonial scissors to cut the ribbon with Chamber ambassadors, VAC employees, and church staff looking on.
The annual holiday event is providing gifts for 3,052 individuals — representing about 1,000 families — with a total value of roughly $300,000.
As he faced the rows of gift packages and food baskets in the church’s Christian Life Center and gym, Ed asked for a show of hands from anyone who has volunteered or helped in some way to make the VAC gift drives successful. Nearly everyone raised a hand.
“It is ingrained in our community,” Ed added. He also recognized the church staff for its “radical hospitality” in providing a meal for gift drive volunteers and VAC employees.
He credited Christy Lowe, VAC’s holiday program coordinator, for “organizing this chaos.”
“Our holiday program is so amazing,” Christy said, adding that she gets to witness “the emotional reactions” from sponsors, volunteers, and clients and program participants. “At times it can be overwhelming and makes this the most wonderful time of the year.”
The ribbon-cutting and distribution launch gave sponsors, volunteers, and the Chamber ambassadors a firsthand look at the impact the program has on the community. Gifts were dropped off Monday through Wednesday, then taken to a number of the 16 partner agencies — including Columbia Housing Authority and Woodhaven, for instance — for distribution to individuals and families.
“We wouldn’t be able to do it without the sponsors who provide these gifts,” Ed added, thanking Shelter Insurance for being the title sponsor for the 2022 gift drive.
“We’re very happy to sponsor and play a small part in this effort,” said Todd Weyler, vice president of underwriting at Shelter. Todd is also the treasurer for VAC’s board of directors.
VAC provides immediate, basic needs services to Boone countians who are at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Some of those service include hygiene packs, an emergency food pantry, help with identification needs, feminine hygiene products, and rent and mortgage assistance. The holiday gift drive is just one aspect of VAC’s work.
“This program gets a lot of attention during the year,” Todd said, “but they’re knocking it out of the park every day, providing services that most of us take for granted.”