Helping out around the holidays

holiday gifts

Penn is encouraging faculty, staff and students to take a few minutes this winter to donate a toy, warm winter coat or holiday meal to those in need.

Once again, the University is sponsoring coat and toy drives, as well as an adopt-a-family program, in which departments or centers can sponsor an entire family for the holidays. These initiatives are part of Penn Volunteers in Public Service (Penn VIPS), which is run through the Barbara and Edward Netter Center for Community Partnerships. Isabel Mapp, director of Penn VIPS, works with local community centers and associations to identify families and individuals in need.

Because of the recent national economic downturn, Mapp says more families need help than ever before. “Agencies are saying they have more people in need and they are providing me with the information on the families earlier. Usually [at this time] I’m still waiting. Right now, I have a whole list of families to assign.”

To sponsor a family, employees of University centers and departments pool their resources and purchase what the family needs to make the holiday memorable—from coats and new pajamas to linens and toys for the kids. Mapp says in past years groups of employees have purchased new bikes for all of the children in a family, treated a family to a new microwave and even helped a mother pay her gas bill.

Last year, more than 50 departments participated in the program. “We take excellent care of the families we come in contact with,” says Mapp.
Through Dec. 11, the Penn community can also donate new or gently used coats, gloves, hats and scarves to the annual coat drive.

Small, unwrapped toys may be dropped off at various campus locations through Dec. 15. The toys collected from the drop boxes will be donated to City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell’s office to be distributed at her annual party for the homeless. Penn has also donated gifts to the People’s Emergency Center and Intercultural Family Services, both located in West Philadelphia.

“We get gloves and hats and books and dolls, cards, little radios—you name it,” says Mapp. “The Penn people are just unbelievably generous.”
Warm winter gear and toys may be dropped off at 25 points around campus, including the Women’s Center at 3643 Locust Walk, the University Club at 3611 Walnut St. and the School of Medicine at 233 Blockley Hall.

Mapp says she is grateful for the Penn employees and students who provide gifts, clothing and much of their personal time to the holiday drives. “I’m just happy that my colleagues at Penn are so very generous, because I know that we have made a tremendous difference in the lives of others.”

For more information on toy and coat drive drop boxes, and to participate in the adopt-a-family program, email Mapp at

Originally published on December 3, 2009