The Christmas season is upon us, and I'm not going to lie, I started listening to those Christmas jams back in September. We wait all year to sprinkle some Christmas magic into our lives and forget about all the troubles of the world — especially in the year of COVID-19. However, some families are not as fortunate to be able to forget about the troubles of the world for an entire season.
A group of six Florida Gulf Coast University students (including myself) realized that there are a lot of families in our community who are in need during the holidays — particularly this holiday season. Back in May, at the very start of the pandemic, the U.S. jobs report showed that over 20 million Americans had lost their jobs. As we all know, this number continued to increase throughout the toughest parts of the pandemic, and many people are still struggling without jobs at the end of 2020.
This is why we began Operation Christmas Care: to give back to those families who are struggling in our local Southwest Florida community so they can still embrace the Christmas magic we all love. We hope to spread Christmas cheer to so many households this year, and we cannot wait to get to know our donor families who are helping us to give back to many families in need!
To shed some light on this nonprofit initiative, I sat down with the brain behind Operation Christmas Care, team leader Nicole Foster, to discuss more about the inspiration behind the nonprofit and how people from all over the nation can help spread a little extra Christmas cheer this holiday season.
First and foremost, what is Operation Christmas Care?
Operation Christmas Care serves to match donor families with families in need during the holiday season. We get wish lists from families in need throughout the community and distribute them to donor families, who buy Christmas gifts for the families in need to spread some extra holiday cheer this year.
How did you come up with this idea?
I called a friend of mine who runs her own nonprofit called Stockings 4 Kids because she was unable to run her event this year due to COVID-19. However, she did have another idea — the basis for Operation Christmas Care. She and I joined forces to build a team and get this mission off the ground.
Why did you decide to start a nonprofit as a college student?
For one of the classes I have to take for graduation, we have to do a service project. But I decided to take it to the next level and start a nonprofit.
How do you think the community will respond to a college student starting a nonprofit like this?
I am actually fortunate enough to live in one of the wealthier communities in the area, and I found out my community is a big fan of FGCU and the entire campus. They feel a real connection to it, and they are so supportive of the students here. I think that support of FGCU is going to drive this project to be a success because I am hoping these supportive families are going to become our donors.
Can you talk about the importance of Operation Christmas Care's mission, especially in the year of COVID-19?
In the area around FGCU, people see a lot of wealthy communities, and they struggle to see families in need. But once you venture out, there are a lot of people struggling all year round, especially during the pandemic. A lot of these wealthier communities have grand Christmases and massive light shows, but we want to provide to the people who are less fortunate so they can relish in the Christmas cheer of Southwest Florida, too.
Do you think there will be any issues getting donors due to COVID-19?
I think the bones of this nonprofit go back many years, as there are a lot of similar programs across the nation. Since people are so familiar with this style of service, I think they will still be receptive. A lot of people want to wake up Christmas morning knowing they helped another family feel the same love and Christmas magic as they are experiencing. And that's what we're all about — families helping families. And I think there will actually be a lot of people who want to donate because of COVID-19, and it will help us instead of hurt us.
What has been one of the biggest struggles you've seen so far as a college student launching a nonprofit?
I really do think the biggest struggle is trying to launch this project in October before Halloween. To launch a nonprofit and deliver gifts by Christmas in two months is difficult, (I don't know how Santa does this!) especially for college students, but as soon as I began to develop it with the team it lit a passion in me. I've been working around the clock trying to do things I've never done before, like web design, social media, and connecting with so many people from the community to become donors. I quickly realized I couldn't do it alone and that it was going to take all of my awesome team members to bring the Christmas magic to life! The experience that Lee, the Founder of Stockings 4 Kids, can share with us is unmatched. And the help of my friend Jess Schmidt to launch this nonprofit has been so fun! I don't think we could have launched this without any of them!
Special Thanks To The Entire Operation Christmas Care Team & Partners:
Lee Knapp - Mentor & Coach
Nicole Foster - Team Lead
Jess Schmidt - Director of Marketing & PR
Julexiua Ellis - Logistics Coordinator
Jada Bigord - PR Coordinator
Alexia Bigord - Social Media Coordinator
Sierra Brink - Gift Coordinator
United Way of Lee - Partner
Stockings 4 Kids - Partner