Denise Tredwell, the organization’s volunteer coordinator since 1998, said each year the Adopt a Family program provides gifts for approximately 800 children with cancer or other illnesses and their siblings through donations from individuals and the community.
The organization, which was named after Karen McInnes, a 16- year old girl who died of Lafora’s disease in 1979, was founded by Sheila Peterson, a family friend.
Since then, the organization has provided emotional, financial and advocate support for about 5,000 families. Tredwell said she became involved with the program when her own son, who passed away in 1990, suffered from a brain tumor and her family required the assistance of the organization.
“The relationship with Friends of Karen was the glue that kept my family together to the end,” she said.
As the volunteer coordinator for the program, Tredwell’s work begins in early October, receiving Christmas and Hanukkah wish lists from children and their siblings. Tredwell said she relates to families struggling with financial and emotional hardships with a sick child and the holidays are an important time of year to help them.
“They may not have the time, resources or the emotional strength to shop for gifts,” she said.
Tredwell matches those lists with individual donors and organizations such as the Children’s Hope Chest Partnership, the Lions Club and The Girl Scouts, who shop for presents.
A team of volunteers then work together to wrap presents, which are delivered to parents in time for the holiday.
“I know what it feels like,” she said. “The holidays are a wonderful time to give, and I walk out every day feeling good about myself.”
Judy Factor, executive director of Friends of Karen, said the organization's philosophy is to help parents concentrate on their child.
She called Tredwell remarkable and said she goes out of her way to make sure every child gets everything on their wish list.
“This is a gigantic undertaking, and Denise runs this program as an act of love,” Factor said.
This year's Friends of Karen Adopt a Family Toy Drive will run through December 15, 2012. Donations can be dropped off at Houlihan Lawrence Real Estate in Briarcliff, N.Y. For more information about the Friends of Karen Adopt a Family Toy Drive, or other opportunities to help, visit its website.