Church members adopt families to brighten students' holidays

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Rick Anderson, communications coordinator at Sunset Presbyterian Church, left, and Christina Mackin talk about the importance of the partnership between the church and Beaverton schools during the holiday  season.A Christmas tree with no ornaments left isn’t your typical holiday season goal, but at Sunset Presbyterian Church, it indicates the holiday spirit of giving is alive and well.

On the first weekend of the church’s fifth annual Assist-A-Family Food & Toy program in late November, willing donor families had stripped the Christmas trees set up in the church’s main corridor of star-shaped ornaments. The stars bear the names of area students from financially challenged families, including 150 at William Walker Elementary School and 50 at Cedar Park Middle School.

The tree was replenished to accommodate several more rounds of giving through family “adoptions” for this fall’s Assist-A-Family food and toy ministry. One of a growing number of volunteer-based collaborations between area schools and churches, the program seeks to help as many as 640 families this season.

While continuing its five-year partnership with William Walker, Sunset Presbyterian, 14986 N.W. Cornell Road, added Cedar Park Middle School to this year’s program. Sunset Presbyterian families choose “stars” from the Christmas trees with information about the family in need, such as the number of children and basic items, such as warm-weather clothing, they may lack. Church families are asked to spend at least $15 per child in their adopted family.

Christina Mackin, Sunset Presbyterian’s project coordinator, said the program is an example of venerable community organizations working to assist each other to help those in need. Many students who start out at William Walker go on to Cedar Park and Sunset High School.

“It’s a chance to connect schools with the community,” Mackin said. “By serving middle and elementary school students, we can follow them all the way through to Sunset High School.

The increasingly focused collaboration is an outgrowth of the School Partnership Network, which the Beaverton-based Luis Palau Association initiated in 2008. Celebrating its fifth anniversary, the network has led to more than 250 school-church partnerships in 17 public school districts in the Portland area, noted Bill Miller, director of development communications.

“Students in at least 30 Beaverton (and) Aloha public schools benefit daily from emerging volunteer partnerships with local churches,” he said. “Teachers and administrators find the partnerships fill a vital need as they stretch available resources to benefit their students.”

Members of the Sunset Presbyterian congregation who adopted the final round of families from the schools last weekend are presumably busy shopping and wrapping. Church leaders, meanwhile, continue to accept food donations in the Sunset narthex, while rounding up volunteers to pack and deliver the gifts, along with food boxes, at the church on Saturday, Dec. 21, from 10 a.m. to around 2 p.m. Each food box feeds seven


“A lot of students are on free- or reduced-cost lunch programs,” Mackin said. “We know there’s not just kids in the house. There are aunts and uncles to feed.”

Based on turnout in recent years, a lively time will be had by all.

“This whole area will be jammed with volunteers,” said Rick Anderson, communications coordinator at the church. “We’ll be packing bread and other food items to deliver that afternoon.”

Anderson admitted there was “some resistance” toward the program from those who felt the different missions of churches and public schools meant they shouldn’t be tied together. Doubts were erased, however, “when they saw we weren’t pushing anything, but just giving things away,” he said.

Mackin agreed, noting there’s little controversy when it comes to lending a hand where the financial need truly exists.

“When people are willing to help, you’ve got to learn to take that help,” she said. “When you help a student, you’re helping the whole community. Then it’s an ongoing circle.”

To volunteer to pack food boxes on Dec. 21, call 503-292-9293 or visit or TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - From left, Charles, Ryan and Natalee Mackin check out the family adoption stars on a Christmas tree at Sunset Presbyterian Church. The stars represent families that church members can claim to help chip in for Christmas presents.

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