UMaine public relations students organize holiday sharing drive through class

Each holiday season, the University of Maine Bodwell Center for Service and Volunteerism partners with Crossroad Ministries, a church in Old Town, for the Holiday Sharing Program, which has been running since 2004. The program accepts gift donations for Christmas presents, which they then provide to low-income families.

Students in the Public Relations course (CMJ 367) were assigned different nonprofit organizations to represent as public relations (PR) agents. A group of five students from the PR class have been acting as representatives for the the Holiday Sharing Program. The students in the group are Marina Gray, Blake Huerfano, Meagan Doucette, Caroline Emerson and Alli Schoff.

Unlike some other similar holiday programs, the parents get to pick out the gifts themselves for their children. Each family gets 15 minutes at a time to shop for a certain amount of gifts.

“This is great because parents get the opportunity to give their kids something,” Huerfano said.

The gifts are donated to Toys for Tots, who then gives them to local organizations around the country doing programs similar to this one.

“As PR representatives we are in charge of making the public aware of this event in hopes of getting more donations,” Gray explained.

Each group of students in the class writes a proposal in the beginning of the semester for their top two clients out of five nonprofit organizations. The proposal indicates why the students should be the representatives, and then the groups are assigned from there.

“I know I picked it because I am involved in the mentoring program. This program reaches out to a lot of the kids I work with in the mentoring program,” Huerfano explained.

The program serves several communities in greater Orono, including Old Town, Alton, Argyle, Bradley, Greenbush and Veazie.

“Unfortunately for the demographics for this area there is a lot of poverty,” Huerfano added.

As PR representatives, the students had to create a fact sheet for the nonprofit, a press release, a flyer for the program and use social media promotion, primarily through Facebook. The organization also wanted a new logo, which the students designed.

“Hopefully this is something that will carry over,” Huerfano said.

“It is like a mini internship,” Gray added.

The students also organized a fundraiser for the program at Margarita’s in Orono, called “Noche Mexicana.” On Monday, Nov. 23, Margaritas will donate 15 percent of sales to the Holiday Sharing Program. Customers must let their server know about the fundraiser.

In addition, the students meet with Lisa Morin from the Bodwell Center — who serves as their client — every week. Gray explained that while this was not one of the requirements, they felt it was helpful.

“It is cool because everything we learn we are learning as we do it,” Huerfano said.

Donations can be brought to one of the donation drop-off boxes at the New Balance Recreation Center, in the Memorial Union or at the Old Town YMCA. Donations that are accepted include clothes, toys, stocking stuffers or simply cash donations, which can also be brought to the Bodwell Center. The cash is used to buy additional gifts before Christmas.

In addition, several Greek organizations on campus collect gifts that are donated to the same cause, including Pi Beta Phi, Phi Gamma Delta, better known as FIJI and Alpha Tau Omega.

In 2014, the organization collected 5,865 gifts that were distributed to 391 families. In total, 1,173 children received gifts through the holiday sharing program.

“At the end of it we get a chance to use cash donations to purchase gifts that we feel like we need for the program, which is super rewarding,” Gray said.

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