BRIARCLIFF MANOR, N.Y. When resident Susan Code learned about the Friends of Karen charity program 20 years ago through a neighbor, she decided that she would take her children shopping every year to buy holiday presents for children who have life-threatening illnesses.
"I thought it was a good lesson for them," Code said.
Now that Code's children are older, Code has decided to volunteer her time helping to collect gifts for the sick children. She has a drop-off box at her Houlihan Lawrence office on Pleasantville Road, and she drives the gifts up to the Friends of Karen headquarters in Purdys once a week.
Friends of Karen is a charity organization that helps families of critically ill children to stay stable and strong throughout the course of the child's illness, explained Judy Factor, executive director of the organization.
During the Christmas holiday season, Friends of Karen runs an "Adopt a Family" program. Social workers ask sick children and their siblings for a wish list with a $100 limit. People can then call Friends of Karen and they are given a list of specific wish list items they can purchase and then drop off in a drop-off location like Houlihan Lawrence.
"We send the gifts unwrapped with wrapping paper, candy and holiday treats to the children and their siblings, and the parents have the pleasure of wrapping the gifts," Factor said. "We try to make the holiday wonderful for families that don't have the time, the resources and the wherewithal to fight the crowds and go shopping."
The "Adopt a Family" program is just one of many things that Friends of Karen does for families of critically ill children in the tri-state area, Factor said. The charity program started 33 years ago when the family of Karen MacInnes, a terminally ill teenager, didn't have the resources to care for MacInnes at home, despite the child's wish to live her final days at home.
One of MacInnes' neighbors, Shiela Petersen, wrote a story about the plight of the MacInnes family that was published in a local newspaper, and Friends of Karen was formed after people begin sending in money to support the family.
Today, Friends of Karen serves about 600 families in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, Factor said. The organization provides financial and emotional support for parents caring for critically ill children who range in age from zero to 21 years old.
"Sometimes when a child is very sick, parents have to stop working," Factor said. "We pay medical insurance, rent, utilities, travel back and forth from the hospital. We have a staff of social workers in Manhattan, Long Island and Westchester who work with families to ensure that they can care for their children."
Anyone who would like to participate in the Friends of Karen Adopt a Family program should call Denise Tredwell at 914-617-4052, Code said. Gifts are accepted up until a few days before Christmas.
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