PSU Santas

    It will be another month until winter term financial aid is available. Between now and then, Nadia Khater has two holidays and nine birthdays to get through.

    "It’s a challenge," Khater, a PSU student, said. With three children, all under the age of 10, Khater only has one full-time job–her education–and she feels it is her responsibility to take 20 credits a term in order to finish quickly. Although convinced that her investment in education will pay off later, right now she needs money, and her only income during fall term has come from financial aid grants.

    Two Portland State programs begun by a former student parent aim to give families and their children, like the Khaters, a happier holiday. The Adopt a Student Parent program works to provide student parents experiencing financial hardship with presents they can give to their friends and families for the holidays, such as clothes, toys, and even furniture.

    "For a lot of people, without this there would be nothing," said Lola Lawson, coordinator of Student Parent Services and founder of the Adopt a Student Parent program.

    Lawson created the program four years ago as a class project, when she was a student parent herself. The idea stuck around, and the number of families helped has gone from a dozen to 60.

    Around late October or early November, student groups and departments receive invitations from Student Parent Services to participate in the program. Those opting to participate are matched with a family, then given a list of the family members. Clothing sizes and a wish list from the family members are also included.

    "The parents are usually modest about what they want," said Kierstead. She said the department tries to give the adults some personal items as well, because most of their money usually goes to the children.

    Requests are usually simple: shoes, basketballs, learning toys, furniture, blankets–things many people take for granted.

    "It’s a natural time for people to look around and think about giving," said Martha Kierstead, who works for the Graduate Studies and Research department. Kierstead said the department has been participating in the Adopt a Student Parent program for years.

    Last year, someone told Khater she should sign up to receive presents. Soon after filling out a form for a program she knew little about, she got a call to "come pick up your stuff."

    "It was insane," Khater said, now in the program for a second year. There were three big garbage bags full of toys, clothing and even hot chocolate mix. Though she was grateful for the generosity, she said she could not help thinking of those even worse off than she was. "I felt guilty."

    Departments and student groups can help out the Adopt a Student Parent program in more ways than just through donations. One year, a student group built a computer. Another department has an annual quilting bee where they sew quilts for their family.

    Families may choose whether or not to keep their names private. Some families end up going to the donating department’s holiday party and meeting with the donors. Often they prefer to simply pick up the donations at Lawson’s office.

    Lawson said most people, students and faculty included, have had experience with financial struggles and that the holiday season is a time when people naturally think about giving. Though there are many causes, Kierstead said it was nice to do something for people in the immediate community.

    As a nontraditional campus, PSU has many student parents, with at least 1,500 contacts in the student parent department. There are also some individuals enrolled in what Lawson calls the "sandwich" group–those who care for their aging parents as well as their children.

    "As soon as I get a job, the favor will be returned," Khater said. Last year, she didn’t want to take credit for the gifts. She made sure every gift had a label on it from "PSU Santa."

    "They are aware that there is a Santa Claus hiding at PSU," she said, referring to her children.

    The second PSU program is an open house that accepts donations and allows the parents to shop for free. It’s too late this year to sign up to adopt a family, but Student Parent Services is still accepting donations.