Holiday spirit

Now is the time of year to give a little something back—be it a gently used coat, a new toy, or a hot meal.

Penn offers opportunities for faculty and staff to reach out and help local families in need with several annual programs run through the Penn Volunteers in Public Service program.

Through Nov. 19, canned food and dry goods may be donated to area shelters and community service agencies for the Thanksgiving Food Drive. Gently used, freshly laundered winter coats may be donated now through Dec. 7, and the big holiday gift drive runs from Nov. 29 through Dec. 10.

“I’m just thankful that we’re able to make a difference to some families,” says Isabel Mapp, associate director at the Netter Center for Community Partnerships. “The Penn family is just so generous. I just want everyone to know the difference we make in the lives of so many people around us.”

For Penn departments or offices looking to make an evern greater impact on the lives of Philadelphia residents this season, Mapp urges involvement in the Adopt-a-Family program, in which offices pool resources and buy gifts for an assigned family, in lieu of a gift exchange among coworkers. Mapp works with specific agencies to identify families in need. Those families are then assigned to different departments, based on size.

Last year, more than 50 departments around the Penn community participated in the program. And Mapp says the help Penn provides really does make a difference.

“It’s felt, and it’s felt to the tune that the [local] agencies depend on us and they look for us every year, and they tell us and they send letters letting us know the difference that it’s made,” she says.

Mapp recalls a mother helped by Penn last year who had recently been a victim of violence. The woman had just started working and had recently moved into an unfurnished apartment; one department provided her with everything she needed for her new home—beds, clothing, pajamas and toys. The department even invited the family to their holiday party.

“Not every department does that, but many of them do,” Mapp says.
The gifts run the gamut from practical to fun. One department bought a specialized wheelchair for a child and another paid a family’s electric bill, while many others offered toys or a nice dinner.

“We try to really match the department with the family,” Mapp says. “Anything that is done is welcomed.”

For information on where to drop off food, coats and toys, check the Almanac at For more information on all programs, contact Mapp at 215-898-2020 or

Originally published Nov. 1, 2007.

Originally published on November 15, 2007