Law firm shares holiday spirit with children

Since the 1980s, the staff at Varnum Law has been spreading Christmas cheer during the holidays by donating food and gifts to local charities. About 11 years ago, they began focusing their goodwill toward students and families from Grand Rapids Public School’s Buchanan Elementary. Someone on the staff knew someone there and a long-lasting partnership soon developed.  

Every Christmas, the staff at Varnum spends their own money to buy toys, clothes, and other gifts for selected Buchanan Elementary students and their families. And to make the holidays more fun for the whole school, Varnum also throws a party, complete with candy canes, popcorn, and Christmas carols. Santa -- played by partner Mark Allard -- arrives at the party to hear all of the hopeful Christmas wishes.

The Varnum staff has formed a partnership with the school that goes well beyond Christmas time. Many of the families who live in the Buchanan Elementary school district are low-income and for this reason, the staff saw a need to get more involved with the children and teachers. Now, every year, they host an ice cream social in the spring and buy school supplies for the teachers in the fall.

Nikki Cushman, a paralegal at the law firm, says that after the first Christmas at Buchanan Elementary, their commitment to the school grew.

“Schools don’t just operate at Christmas time,” she says.

This year, they purchased Christmas gifts for 93 children. The way the gift giving works is that each teacher at the school nominates two children from his or her class and then shares that information with the volunteer committee at Varnum Law. With more than 500 students, it’s not possible to buy gifts for everyone, so this selection process helps volunteers determine who receives gifts that year.

The Varnum committee creates tags for each of these children and any sibling under the age of 15. Staff at the law firm can then pick a tag off the tree and buy a gift for that child, spending whatever amount they feel comfortable.

“People can spend as little or as much as they want,” says Cushman. “No one knows how much is spent.”

Parents of the children also receive a gift package and, in total, 25 families benefitted from the kindness of the Varnum Law staff this year. Additional coats, snow pants, and mittens were donated to the school as well.  

In years past, the Varnum staff would wrap all of the gifts ahead of time, but now they give parents the gifts in a black bag and throw in some wrapping paper.

“We wanted to bring parents into the loop and let them be a part of (the gift giving) instead of just as bystanders,” says Cushman.

Another fun way the staff at Varnum gets involved with Buchanan Elementary is by having an art competition among the 4th graders. For the last seven years, they have provided the art supplies and asked for the children’s help in creating the law firm’s holiday card. The winner this year is Lisbeth Pizano and not only is her art is on the front of the card, but in recognition for winning, she received a framed card and a gift certificate. 

With around 150 attorneys and more than 100 support staff, Varnum Law creates plenty of holiday cheer for the children and families of Buchanan Elementary. Cushman says the children at the school now know who Varnum is and they are “ecstatic” when they arrive for the party. The volunteers who attend seem to have just as much fun. 

“It’s definitely a day worth making time for,” she says.

To find out more about these two organizations, visit them online:

- Varnum Law
- Buchanan Elementary School

Source: Nikki Cushman, Paralegal at Varnum Law
Writer: Heidi Stukkie, Do Good Editor

Images provided by Varnum Law.

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