Annual HAVEN Gift Giveaway Volunteer Experience

The Psi Chi at MSP chapter organized eight students and staff members to volunteer at the Annual HAVEN Gift Giveaway on December 9th. HAVEN is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping domestic violence and sexual assault victims. The Annual HAVEN Gift Giveaway shopping experience allows clients to shop and select special gifts for each member of their immediate household.

Top: Christine Boyle, Kathleen Straight, Juanita Houston, Andrea Rawat / Bottom: Lianne Paskel, Roger Maki-Schramm, Jessie Dluzynski (Maxine Pegram not pictured)

With two young kids at home, it is usually easy for me to get excited about the holidays. I enjoy the hustle and bustle of holiday parties, trimming the tree, wrapping presents, and decorating cookies. This year though, I was having a difficult time getting into the holiday spirit. I was busy writing papers, preparing presentations, and studying for exams as I finished up the semester. My mind was preoccupied, in retrospect, with trivial thoughts as I drove to volunteer at the Annual HAVEN Gift Giveaway. When will I find time to get gifts for my kids? Or wrap them? When are we going to decorate the tree? Where did I put the stockings?  

I was immediately moved when I arrived and surveyed the various items people in the community had donated. Rows upon rows of new coats were organized neatly by size. Baskets full of mittens, hats and scarves overflowed, many of which were handmade. Stacks of books, movies, toys, and games lined the tables and shelves, along with household appliances, linens, and stocking stuffers. Just outside the shopping area a waiting room was full of past HAVEN clients, mothers or expectant mothers, patiently waiting their turn to shop.

Our duties included restocking and organizing the gift tables, helping load vehicles, and handing out wrapping paper and supplies. The most rewarding part of the day by far though, was helping so many mothers shop for their family members. As overwhelmed as I was seeing the donations made by the people in the community, the mothers were often brought to tears when they walked in the room. Many of the women we helped were hesitant to fill their bags with coats and gifts for their children so it was enjoyable to gently encourage them to have fun shopping. We helped them find specific sizes or special types of gifts. We made suggestions for stocking stuffers. We learned their children’s names, ages, interests, and favorite toys, movies, and books.

In a few short hours of volunteering, my perspective was altered and I felt a tremendous sense of gratitude. My small worries dimmed in comparison to the struggles the clients at HAVEN have faced, an experience that was echoed by my fellow volunteers. Watching so many mothers become empowered and feel the support of the community helped remind us all how important it is to spread light and positivity to those who may have spent years in darkness. As clinical psychology students, this experience was a perfect opportunity to help foster empathy for others. There was a sense of purpose we felt working with the HAVEN staff and as we said good-bye to each client, we were gifted with genuine smiles and appreciative hugs.

I applaud the HAVEN staff and long-time volunteers for putting together such a well-organized event. Their passion to help survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault was contagious. As we left for the day, we were told that the event was projected to help over 240 women provide gifts for over 500 children. With a new perspective and re-energized spirit, I will fondly remember this experience throughout this holiday season and undoubtedly volunteer here in the future. 

Kathleen Straight, PsyDKathleen Straight, Doctoral Student, Psi Chi Secretary