During the holidays, Medford couple Jennifer and Jeremy Knoll saw a disparity between the donated gifts kids in need were getting and what they actually wanted.
“We felt there’s this disconnection,” Jennifer said. “Saying just 2-year-old girl is ambiguous. What does she like? What are her interests?”
The Knolls connected in 2017 with the Camden County Women’s Center, where they received wish lists from families and let their own children shop for the gifts. Each year since, they’ve hosted a GoFundMe fundraiser to collect funds.
“I feel like we can try as best as possible to match what the kid is hoping for or what the parents hope for the kid to have,” Jennifer noted. “No one wants the money to be wasted.”
The Knolls have shopped for 30 to 40 children per year. Their children and their friends receive a wish list and an envelope of cash and visit Target, Gamestop, American Eagle and other stores to pick out toys, clothes and other gifts to donate to families at the center.
“We’re just so amazed,” said Rachel Verdi, a clinical coordinator for the Center. “We have some families that, you know, have very, very little, and are just struggling, and to be able to give these kids something that can light them up for that special day is something that makes us all so, so happy.”
The amount of money allotted to each wish list is based on need, Jennifer explained.
“People sometimes ask for an Xbox and sometimes ask for sheets,” she said. “One girl asked for dance lessons, and we were able to call the studio in Camden and get a gift certificate for dance lessons.”
After they shop for gifts, the Knolls bring them to the center with paper and fixings so mothers can wrap the gifts for their children.
“Sometimes people forget that one of the nice things about the holidays is really feeling like ‘I’m part of doing this for my children,’” Verdi said. “It’s just that much more special when the moms do get to be a part of the experience.”
This year so far, the Knolls have raised about $3,000, but hope to get more donations before the Dec. 11 deadline. In 2019, the couple were able to collect $5,500 worth of gifts.
Beyond community donations, the Knolls have participated in volunteer park cleanups and worked with Nick DiBlasi, J. Harold Van Zant Elementary School’s principal, to collect gift cards for donations to families at the center.
Jennifer and Jeremy Knoll are both teachers in the Lenape Regional High School District, where they run service clubs. Jennifer teaches at Seneca High School, where she is the advisor for a girls mentor and leadership program. At Lenape, Jeremy won a Crystal Apple award for making an impact on his students.
The couple met as teachers years ago, when they ran a service club together.
“We used to be really service minded before we had kids,” Jennifer recalled. “As they got a little older, we’ve been able to go back to service, like, okay this is what’s really important.”
She said the annual donation has given her kids and their friends the gift of giving.
“The big piece is trying to get our kids to feel like they have ownership in the process and to help them understand what service is about,” Jennifer explained. “It’s really fun, actually. They ended up feeling so good that it’s almost more of a gift for us to do it than it is for the people who receive it.”
“That’s so important in helping our younger people understand about not just giving back, but about the issues that are important and how to help people,” Verdi added. “I admire them as a family for not just giving to us, but for trying to teach others to do the same.”