In its 10th year, An East Side Christmas connects hundreds of donors to families needing holiday gifts

Donors have adopted more than 400 east metro families this holiday season through An East Side Christmas, a gift-giving effort now in its 10th year.

LeeAnn Larson was the administrator for a Facebook page in 2011 when she read about a family in need.

“I didn’t have my own money to help. But I was like, well, I can help them find someone that would like to help them,” she said.

That year, she connected donors with three families who received gifts for Christmas. Last year, An East Side Christmas helped 528 children, she said.

“I started it not with the intention of it ever becoming this,” Larson said. “I was a single mom and I had a blended family, and I just knew what it was like to need help.”

LeeAnn Larson

The program now runs through two Facebook pages. One is for the families in need applying to be adopted, the other for potential donors to read the stories of families and the gifts they’re seeking.

Larson now has help running the Facebook pages but still sorts through the applications herself to determine which families qualify. She keeps notes on every adopter and adoptee and tries to check in from time to time.

Chelsea Russell of Blaine has been adopting families every year since she discovered the program in 2017. “It is a fun opportunity to spread some Christmas cheer while getting that more personal feel to it,” she said.

Russell said she had given to similar programs in the past but said nothing compares to An East Side Christmas. She likes knowing the gifts she buys are going directly to the kids who asked for them.

“I feel like what we’re doing is actually making a difference for the family over Christmas,” she said.

Cierra Mateen’s four children will receive gifts through the program this year.

“It actually is meaning everything to me as I have no means to give my kids the Christmas that they deserve,” said Mateen, who recently lost her fiancé and the father of her children.

“My kids are experiencing the most traumatic thing in their life,” she said. “No kids will ever be the same without their dad, but it’s nice to be able to give them some joy.”

Larson said adoptees must prove they live in St. Paul, Maplewood, North St. Paul, West St. Paul or South St. Paul and provide a photo of a codeword that is sent to their homes.

Her donors include families that have been adopted in the past and now are looking to give back. Mateen said she wants to be one of those people once she’s in a better financial position.

An East Side Christmas is accepting adopter and adoptee applications until December. Applications will be reviewed and accepted until they have reached capacity.

To adopt a family this year or donate, go to the adopter’s Facebook page.

To be adopted this year, go to the adoption Facebook page.

For more information on the program, message LeeAnn Larson on Facebook.

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