“Putting the Unity in Community” for Beacon Media Newspapers

December 2007

Foothill Unity Center in Monrovia and Pasadena will distribute new toys, clothing and food boxes with meat and all the trimmings for a holiday meal to nearly 1,500 children and 1,000 families from surrounding communities for Christmas this year.

The distribution, which is on December 16th at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and benefits families from 11 local cities, is the result of many hours of work from various volunteers and organizations, but it all starts with angels.

Low-income families with children up to 17-years-old fill out a form with their child’s name, age, gender, clothing size, interests and any special needs and that information is put onto a paper angel that Foothill Unity Center volunteers color and decorate.

Individuals and groups then “adopt” an angel or angels, buying new toys and clothing for each child on an angel and drop off the gifts in opaque bags with the angels attached back to Foothill Unity Center.

“The bags are actually given to the parents [at the distribution] so the parents will have presents for their children on Christmas morning,” said Foothill Unity Center Executive Director Joan Whitenack. “It’s two gifts that way. It’s a gift for the parent to be able to give to their children.”

Kids can participate in various activities at the distribution event where Monrovia Reads will give away new books, expensive items will be raffled off and Santa Claus will be the guest of honor.

Families without children have a separate distribution two days later at the Arboretum and homeless individuals and families can get restaurant certificates and warmer clothing from the Foothill Unity Center locations.

The Foothill Unity Center, originally founded in 1980 in a church closet, serves over 2,000 unduplicated families per year and offers several services such as work experience in conjunction with different organizations.

“I like to say we put the unity in community,” said Whitenack.

Every month homeless and low-income families at or below 150 percent of the poverty level receive clothing vouchers to Foothill Unity Center’s thrift store, Rainbow’s End in Monrovia, and a variety of food.

One such family is an unemployed woman with three young children who wished to remain anonymous. She has come to the center for about 10 months as a result of “divorce and other things” she said. “It’s very helpful to many people and has great services.”

She likes the “Can we do anything?” attitude of the staff and volunteers and is participating in the angel program for her three children.

However, the clients are not the only people who gain from the Foothill Unity Center.

“There are people who volunteer and others who are court-assigned and those are some of the neatest people that I’ve ever had a chance to meet because their lifestyle is different, not better or worse just different,” said Bob Howlett, a retired teacher and four-year volunteer. “I’ve had a chance to meet some amazing people that have great hearts.”

Bob has also seen many court-ordered volunteers positively change their lives as a result of volunteering at Foothill Unity Center.

Foothill Unity Center depends heavily on volunteers year-round and will need hundreds of volunteers to prepare for the Christmas distribution. People can help by donating time, new toys and clothing, or food such as turkeys, chickens and meats that are extremely needed, said Whitenack.

Donors can drop off items at one of the Foothill Unity Center locations, 415 West Chestnut Avenue in Monrovia or 191 North Oak Avenue in Pasadena, or call 626-358-3486 for more information.

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