Lighting up the holidays: The Children First/CIS holiday giving program

Ali Banchiere of Rainbow Community School and her children drop off gifts for the Children First CIS Holiday Gift Program. Photo courtesy of Children First
Laura with Gifts
Laura Jumper at the CIS Emma location. Photo courtesy of Children First CIS

Parents want to make sure their children have the basics – food, clothing and a warm home — but they also want to see their children’s faces light up when they get something special. Yet for families who struggle economically, this can be a challenge, especially during the holidays.

“This is the time of year when the power bill goes up — everything goes up,” says Laura Jumper, a single mother of a 9-year-old daughter. Laura works at a local fast-food restaurant where her paycheck barely covers two of her utility bills.

Although her budget is tight, this year her daughter will be able to have those special items that can light up the holidays. Laura enrolled her daughter in the Children First/CIS Holiday Giving Program, where children living in economic distress are matched with sponsors who provide 4 gifts: an item to wear, an item they need, an item they want and a book to read.

The sponsors drop off the wrapped gifts at the Children First/CIS Family Resource Center, where staff contact the families and arrange for the pick-up. Now in its eight year, this program has matched thousands of local children with holiday sponsors, and last year alone it matched over 250 children.

“I remember growing up and having nothing at Christmas, and I didn’t want that for my daughter,” says Laura. “The holiday giving program at Children First/CIS helps out a lot.”

Laura’s story is not uncommon, says Lisa Barlow, Children First/CIS Success Coordinator at Emma.

“Most of the families we serve are working families,” Barlow says. “They are working part-time, or at lower wages than Living Wage, and they barely make ends meet throughout the year. The holidays are a particularly tough time for them.”

Children First/CIS Latino Outreach Coordinator, Norma Brown adds, “No parent wants to see their child go without that special gift they have been wanting for a while. Although our parents know that it’s important to provide all the necessities, they also want their children to have those special items, too.”

Laura has been working part-time for the past 5 years in the fast-food industry making a little above minimum wage. Her paycheck barely covers the electric and water bill. Her partner is unable to work due to traumatic brain injury and receives a small disability compensation. He was able to secure a 3-bedroom trailer from a family member, and he is able to cover the $500 month rent and the car insurance.

“I’m lucky that my cousin is giving me a good deal on the trailer,” he says. “Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to afford rent.”

Fair market rent for a 3-bedroom averages about $1,000 a month, according to Housing & Urban Development (HUD).

“It’s tight, but we keep a roof over our heads and food in our stomach,” says Laura. “That is why having a program like the Children First/CIS Holiday Giving Program is such a help. I am so thankful to the community for doing this. Without it, we would have been strapped. ”

According to Allison Jordan, Executive Director of Children First/CIS, the Holiday Giving Program is always such a huge success. “We are very thankful for the outpouring of support we get during the holidays,” says Jordan. “But with one in four children living in poverty in Buncombe County, and over half of our students on the free and reduced lunch program, the need is great all year.

“These children need important resources throughout the year — food, clothing, school-supplies and safe and secure housing,” Jordan continues. “When these resources are provided, the chances for higher student success are greater. We ask that you remember these children even after the holidays and stay informed on issues affecting our local children.”

About Children First/ CIS

Children First/Communities In Schools of Buncombe County is a local non-profit that provides programs to economically disadvantaged children & families. Children First’s mission is to empower children and their families to reach their full potential through advocacy, education and services. The mission of Communities In Schools is to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life.

Jodi Ford is the outreach and engagement coordinator for Children First/ Communities In Schools of Buncombe County. To find out more, visit or call 786-2072.


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