Adopt-A-Family tradition for some local businesses |

Adopt-A-Family tradition for some local businesses

Melanie Wong
Grace Dance, left, and Kathryn Hanley wrap gifts Tuesday for families adopted by the Alpine Club in Arrowhead. The club adopts up to 10 families each holiday season, giving each child in the family two toys, basic need items and gift cards for groceries during the drive.
Chris Dillmann | Special to the Daily |

EAGLE COUNTY — Christmas of 2006 was going to be a tough one for Silvia Ramirez and her three children.

Ramirez had just moved the entire family to the Vail Valley, escaping from a bad marital situation, and they had two bags in hand and nothing in their name. The Bright Future Foundation and Salvation Army pitched in to help her make the transition to a new place, but as Christmas neared, Ramirez was barely able to scrape together money to buy a small tree. Not much was left for gifts.

“The kids remember it. I just had the tree, that’s all. We didn’t have anything,” said Ramirez.

Then came the knock at the door, and a number of volunteer elves from the Vail Mountain School, who had adopted the Ramirez family as part of the Salvation Army’s Adopt-A-Family program, arrived with nothing short of a windfall of gifts.

“Oh my gosh, they were amazing. I had no furniture, nothing, and they brought me stuff for the house, clothes and toys. We’re not talking about a trunk full of stuff, but a busload,” she said. “I was beyond shocked. I thought it was a dream for a second. I had to do a double take, is this for real? The kids were shocked because they’d never gotten so many gifts in their lives.”

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The kindness of strangers started a tradition of giving for the Ramirez and her kids, which now number six, including two foster children. For the last eight years, the family has volunteered as bell ringers for the Salvation Army’s holiday kettle drive. This year, 12-year-old Nancy and 8-year-old Martin could be seen at the Avon City Market wearing smiles and ringing away. Martin even wanted to bell ring for his birthday.

“(The kids) understand that they come from a home that has limited resources, and no one is willing to help you if you don’t help your community. That’s what I tell them,” said Ramirez. “I let them know that even though we live in this great town, there are people who have it hard, and we need to help each other.”

Businesses pitch in

That message isn’t lost on a number of businesses, families and individuals in town who have made the Adopt-a-Family program and volunteering with the Salvation Army a holiday tradition.

At Slifer Designs, staff have adopted families for the last 10 years. Some years they take on multiple families, but this year, they decided to focus on a single-parent family of seven, said Sue Poisson of Slifer Designs. The family had no specific requests, so staff brought in an overwhelming number of gifts during the course of the last few weeks. There were gift cards, clothing, blankets, toys, movie tickets, toiletries and even a Christmas ham. On Tuesday, the staff held a wrapping party to package the gifts for delivery.

The best part, of course, is the delivery.

“It’s everything that giving is all about,” said Poisson. “I get hugs. I get kids who are hugging my legs. There are thank yous as we’re driving away and waving from the balcony and yelling ‘Merry Christmas.’ It is such a great feeling knowing that you’ve helped other people. They would do the same for you if they could and right now it’s our turn.”

Playing Santa

Each year, the Salvation Army receives about 500 applicants for the Adopt-a-Family program. Depending on the needs, some families are able to visit the nonprofit’s Holiday Cabin, a room chock full of gifts where parents can pick out toys for their children, said the Salvation Army’s Tsu Wolin-Brown.

The families in greatest need are enrolled in the Adopt-A-Family program, which covered about 150 families this year. Besides individuals and families, businesses that traditionally support a family include Vail Mountain School, First Bank and the Vail Mountain Club.

The Alpine Club at Arrowhead is in its 11th year as a supporter of the program, and this year, club members are adopting seven families. Each year, the club sets up a Christmas tree decorated with ornaments, each with a gift recipient and requested item on it. Members can choose one or a few to purchase and bring back to the club.

“We had more than 100 people participating this year,” said club director Nadine Davis. “The membership expects it and are all on board. They come in and want to see what’s on the tree. They love being part of it.”

Some years, the club has even had to ask for more families to adopt, because the demand to give is so great.

Wolin-Brown said that experience can be incredibly touching and a gift for the giving individuals, too.

“I’ve raised two children myself, and a lot of kids, including my own, get a real sense of entitlement at Christmas. What a way to teach your children that it’s a privilege to give,” said Wolin-Brown. “(These programs) have been a wonderful thing. We have dream jobs as far as being able to play Santa.”

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Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 or at Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.

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