United Way Christmas Bureau Keeping Smiles On Families' Faces This Holiday Season

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TOPEKA, Kansas (WIBW) -- Each year many look forward to celebrating the holidays, to getting stuffed to the gills at dinner and seeing family members smile while opening gifts.

We hear the United Way encouraging everyone to adopt a family this Christmas, we hear it every year. And you may think you've heard it too many times. But every year, each family comes looking for help with their own unique stories - but all with one core need.

It's been a rough year for the Whitlocks. Aaron lost his good-paying job, and when his son's airway collapsed, he moved the whole family to Topeka for hospital treatment.

He's happy his son is okay, but last year there was a gap where Christmas should have been.

"He was pretty broke last year, when he asked the question why'd Santa Claus not like him too much last year and it was very hard for me to explain that to him," Aaron said. "I was in the position where I couldn't really afford Christmas."

This year is the same. Aaron's father just passed and he's trying to keep the family's spirits high.

"Whatever a parent can do to make their child happy."

So the Whitlocks are hoping another family will help put a smile on his boys' faces through the United Way's Christmas Bureau adoption program.

Aaron, his partner Elizabeth (the boys' mother) and his mother Wendy filed into Let's Help to register the family for "adoption." They are asking for shoes, shirts, pullovers and some games for the kids.

"It makes Christmas what Christmas is all about. Being together and just being happy," Aaron said. "We're getting something out of our son by him being happy and knowing Santa Claus came this year."

Grandma Wendy Whitlock is having a hard time mourning the death of her husband, who just passed November 1, while trying to be there for her family. The Christmas Bureau will help lighten the load in some way.

"It's going to help us a lot," Wendy said, "In different ways. It's going to help us spiritually."

Director of Volunteer Engagement for United Way Ryan Gonzales said the number of families registered to be adopted is lower than last year's turn-out. They're encouraging needy families to come out for the last day of registration on Saturday, November 9.

"We just want to make sure everyone has an opportunity to have a Christmas, that's why we want to get the word out as much as possible. Hopefully that brighten's a child or a family's day. "

Gonzales said they're not sure why the numbers are lower this year. As of Friday afternoon 1,800 families had signed up throughout the week. Last year about 2,500 families signed up total.

It may not necessarily mean that less families need help though.

"We'd like to think less people need the Christmas Bureau this year and that would be great if that's the fact," Gonzales said. "So the more we can get the word out for today and tomorrow we really hope that gets a lot more numbers coming in."

Gonzales said families shouldn't feel embarrassed to come in and register, it's not about that.

"We're really trying to reach out. When we have so many people sign up to adopt families that really is a great thing for our community. This isn't just a hand-out, it's an opportunity to help each other, so that's how people should view this."

Here's How It Works:

If a family needs help this Christmas, whether its providing presents under the Christmas tree, having a nice meal or just getting basic necessities to get by, they register their family to be adopted.

November 9 is the last day to register for 2013 at the Antioch Family Life Center at at 1921 SE Indiana Avenue and Let's Help at 200 S Kansas Avenue from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Families must provide income verification (families must be under the poverty line based on the number of people in the family), ID for each family member and a wish list.

Individuals or businesses wanting to adopt another family can sign up on the United Way website at www.unitedwaytopeka.org/work/cb/christmas-bureau-adopter-form.

They pick a family to adopt and must contact the family by December 11. They'll discuss the specifics of what the family needs/wants. They buy the presents and take them to the family on Christmas Day.