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Dozens Gather for First In-Person It’s a Wrap! Event Since 2019

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  • Written By: Laura Hahnefeld
Dozens Gather for First In-Person It’s a Wrap! Event Since 2019

The social hall at the Ina Levine Jewish Community Campus in Scottsdale is buzzing with activity on a Thursday morning in early December.

For the roughly 60 people attending It’s a Wrap!, the Jewish Family & Children’s Service event that prepares holiday presents for the less fortunate, it feels great to be back together after a two-year absence caused by the pandemic.

The wrappers, nearly all of them women, are preparing gifts for 27 adopted families and 23 adopted teens. Some push platform carts piled high with cookware, plush toys and — wait, is that a hedge trimmer? — through a maze of tables. Others thoughtfully select colorful rolls of wrapping and tissue paper, ribbons and gift card boxes from a centrally located supply station stretching nearly wall to wall — like an all-you-can-wrap buffet.

Still others wrap hundreds of gifts, scissors flying, working in teams so that someone ensures the paper stays taut while the other deftly applies tape. There’s chaos until there isn’t. And there are hugs.

After two hours, the wrapped gifts, piled high on tables, are bagged and tagged and loaded onto a truck. The event, which invites individuals, families, and groups to sponsor a family through the organization’s Adopt A Family program, is over.

It’s a Wrap! donor Jo-Ann Mullen, hands on hips, looks around the room, remarking how good it feels to know she was “helping someone’s dreams come true.”

Amy Mastbaum can’t agree more. “My favorite thing is getting the lovely thank you notes from the family and knowing that we were able to give them the things they need or want without stress and worry.”

Amy and Alex Mastbaum
Amy Mastbaum (left) and daughter Alex have made It's a Wrap! a family tradition.

Mastbaum is no stranger to struggling financially. In 2000, Mastbaum’s husband, who worked in the tech industry, was striving to find work at a company that was turning a profit. The family spent the next several years watching friends in the Minneapolis Jewish community prosper as they weathered the storm created by the dot-com bubble.

“It was an extremely stressful time, especially around the holidays,” Mastbaum says. “It’s difficult for children to understand. The last thing any parent wants to do is disappoint a child.”

When her family’s financial situation eventually improved, Mastbaum wanted to give back by adopting a family in need. Not only to help others, but to show her children how fortunate they were.

“We always used to shop as a family,” she says. “Each of us would take a family member. My kids used to love to select the gifts. Once we moved to Phoenix, the kids were in college, so it wasn’t quite the same. But now that they’re grown, they’re involved again. They each buy gifts for the family, and my daughter and I do all the wrapping. For me, this is so personal.”

Mastbaum and her family are celebrating their 10th year in Phoenix and their seventh as donors for It’s a Wrap!, the only Phoenix-area event of its kind for both Hanukkah and Christmas. Families are nominated by clinicians and caseworkers working with those most in need of assistance at Jewish Family & Children’s Service’s four Maricopa County healthcare clinics.

Working from the families’ wish lists, sponsors bring purchased items for their adopted family to the It’s a Wrap! event, where they wrap them with family members and friends. Teens are eligible for adoption as well. Once wrapped, the gifts make their way back to the healthcare clinics, where they are given to the families.

Jo-Ann Mullen
Jo-Ann Mullen found It's a Wrap! through the National Council of Jewish Women.

“My favorite part of It’s A Wrap! is seeing the various groups working together on wrapping day,” says donor Jo-Ann Mullen. “I’m amazed by the generosity shown by so many women, either as individuals or as members of organizations. Such wonderful teamwork, cooperation and excitement!”

Mullen, a New Yorker who has lived in Phoenix for 17 years, admits getting “hooked” on It’s a Wrap! in 2003 while serving as a board member and community service director for the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) in Phoenix. It was the first event she was involved with as a member of the NCJW. Since then, Mullen’s made it a point to attend It’s a Wrap! with members from the group each year. When she lost her husband in August, those friends became more like family.

“The friends I made through NCJW have been a source of support for me during this time, they’re like an extension of my family,” Mullen says. “There’s a real synergy here.”

Mullen, like everyone else at this year’s It’s a Wrap!, enjoyed returning to the event in person after two years away. The program was strictly a drop-off exercise during the pandemic, with donors rolling up in cars loaded with gifts for their adopted families and volunteers waving “Thank You!” signs in the air as they drove away.

“Covid changed the model of It’s a Wrap!,” Mullen says, “but I’m hoping this year will be the start of our annual get together once again.”

The season looks brighter already.

Laura Hahnefeld is director of marketing and communications for Jewish Family & Children’s Service. You can learn more about Adopt A Family and It’s a Wrap! here.