Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Here’s how the holidays look different with these three organizations

In the past, the Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters has done a number of events for the hospitalized children, such as having a virtual Santa visit them in their rooms. (WYDaily/Courtesy Elizabeth Earley)
In the past, the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters has done a number of events for the hospitalized children, such as having a virtual Santa visit them in their rooms. (WYDaily/Courtesy Elizabeth Earley)

During the holiday season, families and friends celebrate traditions in a number of ways.

But for some people, circumstances have placed them in a new location or situation that makes celebrating difficult.

For children in hospitals, women escaping domestic abuse, or the local homeless population, holiday traditions can be a bit different. But for each of these groups, there are still ways to spread holiday cheer.


At the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters, children and families are dealing with tough obstacles, but that doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy their holidays.

“We want to provide a sense of normalcy for kids and families,” said Shannon Hood, manager of child life and patient experience services at CHKD. “Often you see families where an illness can take over…being a parent to a child who is hospitalized also means being able to celebrate milestone and so for the holidays we try to get parents to focus on the reason for each season.”

Hood said the holiday season at CHKD really starts around Halloween, when community partners donate costumes and plastic pumpkins with treats in them so children can experience trick-or-treating. 

There are also celebrations for Thanksgiving such as a Thanksgiving Bingo game which is streamed through a closed-circuit television network that allows children who can’t leave their rooms to have the opportunity to participate.

December gets a bit crazier, though, Hood said.

This year, CHKD kicked off the month with performances from dancers in The Nutcracker, which is also streamed through the closed-circuit television. 

There is a daily activity calendar throughout the month with different events that celebrate not just one specific holiday, but the entire season. The different activities featured on the calendar also help the children with various developmental milestones, such as socialization or cutting in straight lines.

One of the most meaningful events each year is the Holiday Workshop where families come into the workshop and pick out various gifts to give to their children. They can then have the presents wrapped free of charge.

“[The holiday workshop] brings tears to my eyes,” Hood said. “Just thinking of families’ reactions in the past, how they become overwhelmed. Some don’t know how they’re going to provide their kid, so we can normalize it for them and say ‘this is for you to celebrate.’”

Avalon Center

Many women come in at the Avalon Center with one or more children and want to find a way to provide some holiday cheer.

“For those in the shelter, they are basically homeless,” said Teresa Christin, executive director of Avalon. “It’s often women with children and it’s a scary enough thing to have lived through domestic violence, but to be living in a homeless shelter during the holidays makes it that much harder.”

The Avalon Center is a local nonprofit that provides resources and support for victims of domestic and sexual violence.

Christin said providing ways families can try and celebrate their holiday traditions as normal as possible is really important for the organization. During the holidays, there are community partners that will donate clothing, food and other various items that help make the time a little easier.

But to spread a bit of holiday cheer, Christin said the women will hold a “wrap party” where the center provides them with wrapping paper, ribbons and music in order to have a little fun with some of their gifts.

In addition, Christin said there are donors who adopt a family and donate gift cards or take them shopping so they can provide gifts for their children.

“It’s important because for anyone the holidays can be particularly stressful and can create tension,” said Juanita Graham, director of outreach services for Avalon. “So we try to alleviate the tension around finances and give them the opportunity to be able to celebrate.”

The Center also hosts a Holiday Meal at the shelter this year where a community partner volunteers to collect food for a celebration for the women and families. This year, however, the Center is still looking for a group to support them. Those interested can reach out to Avalon online.

House of Mercy

The Williamsburg House of Mercy is a local organization that provides resources for the homeless population. The organization begins signing up families for their Christmas Angels program in October, said Shannon Woloszynowski, executive director. Each child gets to choose two gifts, one under $50 and one under $30.

As of Dec. 12, the organization had more than 500 children signed up to receive gifts. In addition, children will receive toys donated by the Williamsburg Restore, bears donated by the United Way and blankets donated by Wyndham.

Those staying at the Harbor Day Shelter for the Homeless, will also receive a special gift and holiday meal. In addition, the organization distributes gift bags to local nursing homes and gift packs to every person incarcerated at the Virginia Peninsula Regional Jail.

“We try to make sure that no one feels left out or forgotten at Christmas,” Woloszynowski said.

Alexa Doironhttp://wydaily.com
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at alexa@localvoicemedia.com.

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