Getting into the holiday spirit is challenging when you or a loved one is ill. It's even more difficult when you don't know whether you'll have enough money to pay for necessities like food, gas and clothing — never mind holiday meals and gifts. Every holiday season, UCLA Health Auxiliary coordinates the Adopt-a-Family Program. UCLA staff and the community donate money that the Auxiliary uses to buy gift cards for UCLA patient families who are in need.
"UCLA's Department of Care Coordination and Clinical Social Work, as well as medical staff, nominates patient families who are facing significant medical challenges and economic difficulties," says Rachel Dourec, who has chaired the Adopt-a-Family Program since 2007. When the program started more than 20 years ago, the Auxiliary accepted a range of donations, including clothing and toys.
"Recipients appreciated the gifts, but were often more in need of essentials," Dourec says. To better meet the needs of patient families, the Auxiliary now accepts only monetary donations, which are tax deductible. The Auxiliary purchases gift cards for families to use for gas, food, clothing and other necessities. "We hear from parents who are grateful that they can pick out items that their children need and will use," Dourec says. "Adult patients in the program often comment that our gift cards are the only holiday presents they receive."
These gift cards, of course, wouldn't be possible without the generosity of the UCLA staff and the community. "Any individual can contribute, and no amount is too small," Dourec says.
Years ago, the administrative staff at UCLA Health Radiology opted to forgo their traditional employee gift exchange and instead use the funds to sponsor a family. "Giving and helping others is a big part of why we're all here, and we have more employees enthusiastic about participating each year," says Sue Shapses, director of human resources for radiology. "It feels good to know that we're helping a family enjoy the holiday season with the things that so many of us take for granted."
Gregory Hachigian, director of IT Strategic Integration, coordinates donations for the Department of Information Services and Solutions. "We receive profiles of some of the patients who will be assisted by the Program that includes a brief explanation of their medical condition and details about the family's economic situation," Hachigian says. "I find that people show a real interest when they know a family's challenging circumstances. It helps to feel a connection to the patient families you're helping."
The Adopt-a-Family Program typically serves 100 to 200 patients and their families every year. "Demand for this outreach grows each year," Dourec says. "We're seeing more families in financial straits than in previous years. These families often include extended family members like grandparents and other relatives. They're really struggling to get by."
You can make a contribution to Adopt-a-Family through December 28. Contact Rachel Dourec at RDourec@mednet.ucla.edu.
Left to right: Kanza Shaheen, Gregory Hachigian, Sue Shapses and Rachel Dourec.