Asheboro resident Robert Baker is one of 10 children of a mother who loved to give back. Baker credits her for teaching her the importance of helping others even though her family didn’t have much for themselves.
Baker’s mother died on December 3, 2017 from pancreatic cancer. Her passing was devastating for the whole family, but Baker thought he could remember her by living her best quality: supporting others.
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As it was close to Christmas, Baker decided to sponsor a family. He contacted his friends and family and asked them to help him find someone who needed support. He was hoping for a family but ended the first year with 50 families seeking help before the holidays.
After finishing the first Godfather, he felt like he wouldn’t do his mother the honor of ignoring the other families because they were put ahead of him for a reason. So in 2017, he finished sponsoring 50 families. The following year, the group spread the word and doubled to reach over 120 children.
In 2020, Baker and her team sponsored 1,000 children. This year it has seen tremendous growth; just over 1,500 families have been sponsored to date. It plans to serve an additional 300 families.
The plan was to help locally, but the group spread across the United States and spread to France, the Philippines and Australia via social media.
Baker said it can still be a challenge, but he’s not alone and has extra helpers up for the challenge.
The Courier-Tribune sat down with Baker to dig deeper into his Facebook Christmas group. Here is his response.
Q: What are the requirements for the families you help?
We have very minimum requirements for children to be 15 or under as we believe they can still afford a Christmas present at this age. We also ask that the family or parent applying for sponsorship have custody of the children. We don’t have any other rules since the band has grown so much digitally.
Q: What feedback have you received from families?
I sponsored a family a few weeks ago. As I dropped off the gifts, the child could barely contain his excitement when he saw boxes coming into the house.
Later that evening, his mother and father sent me pictures of him because he couldn’t see the presents or not open them. Some of the gifts we received included a Mutant Ninja Turtles Party Cart. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a big smile on a child’s face. They were the only new toys the child had ever had, so he was thrilled. I hope he can play with them and remember where he got them from.
Q: How do you facilitate referrals?
Before COVID, we would arrange someone on site to have the child come to them and help distribute the gifts. However, the last two years made us completely rethink the strategy because we didn’t want to expose people to potentially sick individuals and put themselves in danger.
So we went back to the drawing board and created a digital version of the same where we would ask families to place wishlists from different accounts such as Walmart and Amazon subscriptions. If they place a wishlist, we would be able to sponsor these people anonymously by purchasing items and having them shipped directly without setting foot in their homes.
I like to leave notes for the kids and the gifts we give let them know the gift was given by me and my mom. It’s a little note of encouragement that lets them know people care.
Q: How can people get involved in sponsorship?
We favor direct sponsorships because it makes things a little less messy. First, they must join our private Facebook group called Christmas Gifts for Kids. Then they can sponsor as many families as they can or just participate by watching the videos people have uploaded of their kids opening gifts.
We also have a Christmas carol challenge where families sing Christmas songs and post videos. The group becomes really festive.
The majority of our 8,000 members right now probably come to the group more for the Christmas spirit. It’s not just about giving gifts, but having a group of people who share the same love of the season. It’s also about seeing little reminders of families celebrating the holidays, remembering what the holidays are for with every video posted.
Q: How have you taught your children the importance of helping others?
As young children, we grew up in a poor family that didn’t have much. However, my mother had a heart for people who were less fortunate than us. It didn’t matter how hard we struggled. She would find people who needed help more than us.
I remember going to drop off gift baskets for seniors at a seniors’ residence, visiting them, and sitting around all day. I remember buying presents for the children who were with their mothers in the battered women’s shelter.
I remember how much this holiday meant to my mother and what it meant to give, not to receive. So we’ve made it a tradition to show our children that it’s not about the gifts you get, it’s about the gifts you give and to show those around you that they’re taken care of.
It’s also about showing them that their grandmother was a good-hearted person and those are the expectations she would have for them. It’s not just me and my kids, but my nieces and nephews. I have nine brothers and sisters, so they all have their own children participating.
Read more: Randolph County Christmas Tree Farms Beautify Residents’ Homes for the Holidays
He started very small, but he has grown so much. So it’s kind of a blessing to see.
Petruce Jean-Charles is a government watchdog journalist. They are interested in what is happening in the community and are open to advice on people, businesses and issues. Contact Petruce at [email protected] and follow @PetruceKetsia on Twitter.