ORLEANS - Thanksgiving is still a week away, but inside the former Olympia Sports in Skaket Corners, it's already starting to feel a lot like Christmas.
On an unseasonably warm late fall afternoon last week, a handful of volunteers busied themselves setting up decorations and organizing paperwork in anticipation of this year's Adopt-a-Family program. The annual holiday workshop, which is organized by the Homeless Prevention Council, matches community donors and shoppers with local families to provide toys and clothing for children.
"This is the heart of the program," said Ramona Carlow, a council board member who is the volunteer chair for this year's program. Carlow said 25 volunteers have signed up to help organize the program, which is now in its 26th year.
Diane Weisman and her husband, John, of East Falmouth, helped get decorations set up around the building. The couple recently retired to the Cape full time, and Diane said volunteering with Adopt-a-Family allowed her to put her past experience in retail to good use.
"When people are coming in to get their things, to have it look like winter, I think it makes them feel better," she said. "It sets the tone."
Meanwhile Jenna Karber, another volunteer, worked her way through a binder of forms from families laying out their children's wants and needs this holiday season.
Karber, who is in her fifth year volunteering with Adopt-a-Family, serves as the program's donor coordinator. Her job is to pair families with people who have volunteered to shop in support of the program.
So far, there are 165 families participating in this year's program, Carlow said. Council CEO Hadley Luddy said the program will "definitely surpass" the 184 families served last year.
"We have 40 families left to match based on what we have right now," Carlow said.
Donors are given a preference of who they would like to shop for (younger children, older children, etc.), but the identities of the families are not revealed to them, Carlow said. She said donors are asked to spend about $200 per family, including $100 for clothing (usually a shirt, jacket and pants) and two items up to $50 that are specially requested by the family. Donors also have the option of providing families with an additional $100 gift card for groceries or other needs.
Requested gifts run the gamut from holiday staples such as Barbie dolls, LEGOs and Matchbox cars to new favorites like L.O.L. dolls and Marvel action figures. Bikes are also in high demand this year, Carlow said.
The council had already received 107 requests for bikes as of last week, and Carlow said that volunteers are anticipating as many as 130. The council is working with Walmart in Plymouth to help provide the bikes, she said.
"They have the biggest inventory right now," she said. "Hopefully they'll be able to accommodate that."
Karber said the work leading up to the workshop's Nov. 15 launch is "incredibly time intensive."
"There's a lot that goes into coordinating for just one family,' she said. "We're checking toys, we're checking clothing and sizes."
But having volunteered with the program in past years has helped make for a smoother process, she said.
"I know all the donors now," she said. "You know what they're looking for, what they want. But we also get new donors [each year], which is great."
Once donors are matched with families, the shopping begins. Inside the Adopt-a-Family headquarters, numbered tags hang from strings above fold-out tables. Each tag corresponds with a participating family. In the coming weeks, gifts will be dropped off, sorted and organized according to those tags.
"We really need this big space," Carlow said of the Skaket Corners building, which she said is the largest space that's ever been offered the program. "We get more donors everyday. It's really grown into such a beautiful program."
Gifts will be collected at Skaket Corners through Dec. 3. Volunteers will then check the gifts against the lists submitted by families to ensure that the right items have been purchased before families pick them up on Dec. 18.
"The last thing we want is for a child to have asked for something, and something was inadvertently purchased that wasn't what they asked for," Carlow said, adding that volunteers will continue to help satisfy additional requests that come in closer to Christmas.
Supply chain issues threatened to put a wrinkle in holiday shopping efforts this season, but so far Carlow said that hasn't been an issue.
"We might have an issue where something isn't available and we ask the family if they might want an alternative [gift]," she said. "If we have to we'll do that, but we're not hearing that yet."
Local organizations including the Friends of the Snow Library and HERizons are also helping with Adopt-a-Family this year by providing baked goods for families on pick-up day, Luddy said.
The growth of the Adopt-a-Family program over the years shines a light on the needs facing families in Orleans and other parts of the Cape. Luddy said the increased cost of housing in the region is leaving some families to dedicate as much of 60 percent of their income toward rent.
"This additional support to take this off the list for parents who are trying to make everything happen and make a happy holiday for a kiddo is so important right now," she said. "It's a great way for our community to get behind our families."
To participate in the Adopt-a-Family program, send an email to email@example.com. To donate, visit www.hpccapecod.org/adopt-a-family.
Email Ryan Bray at firstname.lastname@example.org