Holiday music floated through the room, along with a steady hum of conversation, as volunteers wrapped gifts for children during Sunday’s Help Us Help Them volunteer event at the APHA Annual Meeting.

woman wrapping giftsAttendees tied ribbons around pajama sets and wrapped stacks of toys and games. Several volunteers said they find gift-wrapping soothing or cathartic, turning the event into a self-care opportunity while also helping Philadelphia families. About 125 APHA Annual Meeting attendees volunteered to work one-hour shifts throughout Sunday.

“Anything you can do that can lighten the load of community organizations — these are man hours that would have to come from [staff],” said volunteer Audrey Tran Lam, an environmental health program manager at the University of Northern Iowa, as she wrapped box after box.

This is the third year APHA has hosted a volunteer opportunity as a way to give something back to the meeting’s host city. This year’s local charity is Turning Points for Children, a subsidiary of the Public Health Management Corporation and the largest social service organization for children in Philadelphia. The group serves more than 17,500 vulnerable residents through a continuum of care.

Turning Points for Children is the largest provider of foster care in Philadelphia, with 5,800 children under their care, according to Monika Kreidie, development associate at Turning Points.

man wrapping giftsEach year, the group hosts Brighter Holidays, in which each child — from infants to 18-year-olds — is given a new gift made possible through community donations. The APHA wrapping room included piles of cozy socks, fancy water bottles, rows of dolls and piles of games that families can play together.

The volunteer event elicited a bit of nostalgia for first-time attendee Austin Brown, a resident physician at a Veterans Affairs hospital in Denver. Growing up in Chicago, Brown and his family used to wrap presents for children in foster care during the holiday season.

“Philanthropy is a big part of health care in general,” he said. “I just wanted to do my part in giving back.”

Amber Dessellier, a staff member and contributing faculty at Walden University, echoed the sentiment: “It feels like a good way of giving back to any community, and who doesn’t love wrapping Christmas gifts?”

Gifts can be donated throughout the meeting in the Mix and Mingle Lounge inside the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

Photos from top: Audrey Tran Lam and Austin Brown wrap gifts at the APHA 2019 volunteer event. (Photos by Melanie Padgett Powers)