Christmas Bureau gives children hope

A child wakes up on Christmas morning, runs down the hallway in excitement, only to discover disappointment—no presents wait for him under the tree.

For many children in Topeka, this is a reality they face every year. The United Way of Greater Topeka hopes to change these circumstances. The United Way’s Christmas Bureau is in its 70th year of adopting local families in need for Christmas.

There are almost 3,000 families that have signed up to be adopted this year who need assistance providing Christmas presents for their children. Household sizes vary from one single individual to a family of 12.

“We have more than 9,000 people total of all ages this year seeking help,” said Tom Baumgartner, director of volunteer engagement for United Way of Greater Topeka. 

Baumgartner said that number is up from previous years. More families are seeking help this holiday season. Families that qualified for assistance completed a thorough intake process that reviewed income documentation and verified identification for each person in the household.

“The economic recovery has been slow and many families are dealing with unexpected issues from unemployment to disability and more, causing an increase in the number of families that applied for help this year,” said Jamie Hornbaker, director of communications for United Way of Greater Topeka.

The increased numbers translate to a need for more adopters. The cost to adopt a family varies based on the family size. For a family of three, the recommended cost is $125 – which includes a gift of $35 for each person in the family and food for a holiday meal.

“College students can help in many ways – they can either pass the hat with a group or organization and adopt a family together or collect money to send to the Christmas Bureau,” said Hornbaker. “Some people have asked their families to consider adopting a family in lieu of a gift exchange.”

For students who may not be able to make monetary donations, there are other ways to get involved.

“College students can volunteer,” said Hornbaker. “United Way needs volunteers to do the shopping, gift wrapping and delivering of gifts for Christmas Bureau. It’s a fun, easy way to get involved.”

At this time there are still more than 410 families in need of adoption. The easiest way to get involved or adopt a family is to visit the United Way online at After submitting a request for a family, volunteers first process the information and then match the adopter with a family in need. The family’s contact information and wish list is sent to the adopter via email or mail.

“It’s important that once an adopter receives their family’s information that they pick up the phone and call them,” said Baumgartner.  “So many of our families get nervous if they don’t hear from anyone.  This is true especially when there are kids involved; they worry about their kids’ Christmas more than their own.”

After contacting the family, the adopters can shop, wrap and deliver presents.

“Adopting a family would help students feel connected to the community and the meaning behind Christmas,” said Hornbaker. “We will take donations right up until Christmas, but hope to adopt out everyone by the 15th of December.”