By Jeff Mortensen
President & CEO

I mentor a group of eighth-grade boys with a friend of mine, and for this year’s community service project, the group volunteered at 360 Communities Armful of Love.  Volunteering and participating in community service is a healthy developmental aspect for people and an important part of growing vibrant communities.  The Armful of Love program is a wonderful volunteer experience and is the closest I’ve come to matching the images that I carry around in my head of Santa’s workshop.

Imagine over 300 volunteers turning a warehouse into a Holiday celebration of community generosity, complete with Santa, holiday lights, trees and ornaments, smiling faces, music, treats, and an outpouring of goodwill for our neighbors struggling through financial hardship.

Armful of Love has existed for almost the entire 47-year history of 360 Communities.  When we open the phone lines and application process each year in October, it takes only three or four days for about 1,000 families to register.  Interviews are conducted with every family to identify their individual needs and connect them with a broader set of community resources that support longer-term stability.

Volunteers present these unique family needs to the community and sponsors are matched with specific families that meet the sponsor’s desire and ability to give.  Sponsors purchase and wrap gifts based on the family requests provided and drop them off at “Santa’s workshop,” or in our case, ShopJimmy.

ShopJimmy once again generously donated warehouse space in Burnsville to host the program, and this is critical because Armful of Love would not function without donated space.  Thank you, ShopJimmy! Seeing an ocean of donated gifts covering the 12,000 square feet required to serve over 4,000 individuals leaves a person wondering if they are in Santa’s workshop. One understands that our community’s heart and capacity for helping our neighbors in need during this holiday season is inspiring.

An army of volunteers, led by one incredibly talented and dedicated 360 Communities employee, Sue Lewis, pulled off a holiday miracle!  In less than three months, volunteers, sponsors, and families were identified, an entire warehouse operation was established and organized, and a complex set of logistics were implemented and executed.

In a very short time, more than 5,000 lives were impacted through giving, receiving, or volunteering.  They experienced a powerful connection to a larger common good: a community that cares for each other in a compassionate way.

If you’ve ever worked alongside eighth-grade boys, it can be a challenging endeavor. But with this experience, it was rewarding to see their faces light up as they experienced volunteering at Armful of Love.  They were eager to be the first in line to retrieve the next set of gifts that would be distributed to families. It was special to watch as their hearts warmed to the realization that they were part of doing good for their neighbors in need. They experienced the 360 Communities cycle of giving and receiving and discovered that you benefit yourself when you give of yourself in the service of others.

Happy Holidays!  Join us and discover how you can build stronger, more compassionate communities and be part of a team where people enrich themselves while helping others.