As some of Madison’s high school students balance classes, jobs and home responsibilities, two local organizations are lending a hand to ease their burden this holiday season.
The Madison chapter of 100 Black Men, in partnership with the United Way of Dane County, organized “Christmas for Children With Responsibilities.” The toy drive is for Madison high school students who are the primary caregivers for their younger siblings.
Now in its second year, the drive collects gift cards, new toys, books and games for kids ages 0-12. Care packages are assembled and discreetly distributed to the high school students to give to their younger siblings.
The first year of the drive targeted Madison Metropolitan School District students. This year, it will expand to kids in Verona and Sun Prairie. Over 15,700 students in those three districts qualified for free or reduced lunch in the 2016-2017 school year, according to DPI records.
In a statement released last week, Floyd Rose, president of 100 Black Men of Madison, said the toy drive is “designed to aid youth of the greatest need, children who are parents of children and children who are the head of their households.”
Rose said it is “sobering to realize how so many have so little” in a prosperous community like Madison.
100 Black Men of Madison works directly with local high schools to identify students who will benefit the most from the donations. The schools give the care packages to the students before they leave for winter break.
Johnnie Milton, multicultural service coordinator at La Follette High School, said the staff respects the confidentiality of the students and works to ensure they are receiving the gifts with dignity.
“We know all of the students and we explain that no one is looking down on them. We are trying to recognize and support them for all their work at school and at home,” Milton said. “Last year it made their holiday to have something they could take home to share with their younger siblings, and put them in a position to do something positive for their loved ones. Even one toy makes a difference.”
J.R. Sims, communications director for 100 Black Men of Madison, said many large toy drives require extensive documentation or traveling to a single drop-off point to receive donations, which can burden the young caretakers and stoke fears of involving social-service organizations.
“These kids are not particularly able to go to (a drop-off point) to collect toys, present ID and sign papers. They are flying under the radar,” Sims said. “Organizations that mean well may find it necessary to take action that may be detrimental to that family unit.”
Molly Meister, director of media and community engagement at the United Way of Dane County, said the organization is “thrilled” to work with 100 Black Men to “help bring holiday cheer to local teenagers and their families.”
“At United Way of Dane County, we work year-round to help stabilize families and make sure every person can succeed in school, work and life,” Meister said. “By participating in this toy drive, (citizens) are lessening the financial and emotional burden the holidays can have on teenagers who are taking care of their younger siblings.”
Christmas for Children With Responsibilities is collecting donations Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the United Way of Dane County’s office, 2059 Atwood Ave., and Group Health Cooperative, at 1265 John Q Hammons Drive. Donations are due by Dec. 20.