Spreading Holiday Joy As A Cheer Box Volunteer: Stefenie Wright

When Stefenie Wright's father died in 2011, she struggled, as anyone grieving the loss of a loved one might do.
When she joined Farrell's Extreme BodyShaping later that year, her new friends could see the pain she was in and recommended she reach out to EveryStep Grief & Loss Services' Amanda the Panda program for grief support. 
"I was having a lot of troubles and they kept saying, 'You should go to Amanda the Panda, it will really help you,'" Stefenie recalls. "I wasn't really okay with it. I didn't know what to do."
But finally she relented and signed up for the next round of support group taking place in the spring of 2012.
"I almost walked out of the first one because I was so nervous," she said. "It was wonderful. I went to all the sessions and I'm really glad that they forced me, in a gentle way, to go."
When the support group session ended, Stefenie continued with the program, attending a 5K memorial run and participating in a winter party with her two children.
"There was a gift for every kid, so my two kids got presents and we got a memory ornament representing the person you lost. We put that on our tree every year," she said.
Not too long after the party, Stefenie was at home when she received an unexpected knock at the door.
"There was a lady holding a box," she recalls of first seeing a Cheer Box. "I was like, 'What is this box?’ I didn't even know about these boxes. I'd been to Amanda the Panda the whole time and done all these other things, but I had no idea about Cheer Boxes."
The woman told Stefenie she was sorry for her loss and explained the meaning behind the box of gifts.
Cheer Boxes are a holiday box of 12, family-friendly gifts that go out to those who have felt the pain of losing a loved one. Each gift in the box is adorned with a message describing the item and how it can provide comfort and remembrance during the holidays. 
"I remember being shocked," Stefenie says. "How is this for us? Why would they give us gifts, they've already done so much for us."
Over the next 12 days, Stefenie and her children opened one gift a night, reading the message and enjoying their time together.
"We did it as a family," she says. "I remember my oldest coming home and she was really impressed by the massive box of presents. I told her it was about Grandpa Steve and she thought it was really neat."
While both Stefenie's children were too young at the time to attend Amanda the Panda support groups, she passed along what she'd learned in the groups to her daughter.
"When she got to open stuff, she was really getting into it," Stefenie says, adding that with each item her daughter found a way to connect it to her grandpa.
The family still has several of the items from the box, including holiday-themed candles they put out each Christmas.
"It just really helped us when we go to do it together," she notes.
Stefenie, who had kept in touch with members of her support group, emailed them about the Cheer Box. That's when she learned you could nominate families and individuals to receive a Cheer Box and other ways you could volunteer with the program.
The following year, Stefenie reached out to Amanda the Panda about volunteer opportunities. She learned some volunteers help by bringing food or preparing meals for support groups. Stefanie also considered another volunteer opportunity:  taking part as a support group facilitator. 
"I don't think I was emotionally strong enough to do that yet," she recalls thinking. 

That's when she found out she could volunteer to support the Cheer Box program. 
"I might not be able to handle the emotions that come with grief group or cook an entire meal, but I can absolutely wrap presents for kids and families and deliver boxes," she says.
When Stefenie started a new job in the marketing department of Shazam, she brought her knowledge of Amanda the Panda with her.
"Every year, I've brought it up as a volunteer time off (VTO) opportunity," she says, noting that people outside her department have even gotten involved volunteering for the program.
This year, Shazam posted the opportunity as a VTO option for all employees, and helped to host a donation drive collecting puzzles to go in Cheer Boxes.
"I just love it. It's so neat, knowing that feeling you get when you get this box of presents from someone who might not even know you. They don't have to do this, but they did," she says of wrapping gifts for Cheer Box. 
It's something Stefenie doesn't plan to quit anytime soon.
"Some people might not want to do this because they think they won't be seen volunteering, but these things you're doing really matter," she says of encouraging others to give back. "The end result is like no other. I've experienced the end result and it feels so awesome to get that splash of love. Just know that when you are volunteering this way, that this is truly a big deal to those who get these boxes at the end."