An agreement between a husband and wife to buy gifts for a struggling family instead of each other has flourished into something much larger after 15 years.
Last week, Secret Families Christmas Charity, an organization that delivers Christmas gifts to children in need, completed its mission of helping more than 400 families across central Indiana. Forty of those families, approximately 200 individuals, are in Hamilton County. The Hamilton County chapter of Secret Families started in 2014 with only eight families being served.
“Unlike the other counties we serve, Hamilton County fights the misconception that every resident is affluent,” said Tom Flanagan, “head elf” of Secret Families of Hamilton County. “While the percentages look good in our community, there are over 10,000 children on free or reduced lunches in Hamilton County schools and over 12,000 people who fall below the poverty line. This is larger than the entire populations of eight Indiana counties.
“The stories of the families we help, which are provided to us from local schools, range from the death of a parent to unplanned medical debt to sudden loss of a job, and the stories are not just isolated to a few corners of the county.”
On Dec. 14, shopping took place at Meijer in Noblesville, followed by gift wrapping at Wasson’s Nursery in Fishers. The gifts were then delivered.
“We have (more than 300) volunteers that call the family one to two weeks in advance of the event and basically create a Christmas list,” Flanagan said. “The parents often tell us they don’t want anything, but we buy presents for every member in the family. The kids will receive toys, clothes, coats, etc., and the parents often receive clothes. The idea is to truly let the children experience the magic of Christmas by getting them gifts they have specifically asked for whenever possible.”
Flanagan said while there is no set dollar amount per family (families range from 3 to 13 members), the average is approximately $550 per family and includes presents, a Meijer gift card to purchase a Christmas dinner and a decorated tree.
“There is no cap on families we serve aside from funding,” he said. “Our largest chapter serves almost 400 families each year. We have far more families referred to us in Hamilton County than we can currently fund, and (we) would love to see this grow exponentially in the coming years.
“Christmas was a wonderful time for me and my wife when we were raising our children and now that we are raising our grandchildren. I cannot imagine as a parent having to say, ‘I’m sorry, but we can’t afford to have Christmas this year.’ This conversation takes place more often than people think each year Hamilton County.”
For more, visit secretfamilieshc.org.